@blackatfss: What is it? Why Does it Matter?

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This summer, Americans engaged in many forms of protest against systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the shooting of Jacob Blake. In crowded streets and empty stadiums, people have made their voices heard in the name of racial justice. The advent of the internet and social media has inspired new ways of educating and protesting, including the creation and rise of many “Black at” accounts on Instagram. These accounts intend to expose racism at various institutions (especially at high schools and colleges) and provide individuals an anonymous platform to share their stories.

The @blackatfss account was created anonymously in early July. Since then, the account’s operators have posted twenty stories from various former and present Black FSS community members and shared relevant racial justice resources. According to the account’s mission statement, their primary aim is to speak out against anti-Blackness at FSS and “share the experiences of Black students, alumni, staff, parents, and other FSS community members.” The mission statement also explains that those involved with the account hope that “non-Black people begin to understand the discrimination, prejudice, bias, and racism that Black people face at Friends Select School… Our hope is that non-Black people who read these posts begin to examine their own complicity in anti-Blackness and are moved towards change.”

Toni Graves-Williamson, Friends Select’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, says,“it’s really sad and unfortunate that the students felt like their voices were silenced and they couldn’t say what they wanted to say in person or to anybody on campus.” She adds that these stories are a product of centuries of historical pain. “As a community, now that we are aware of [this pain], we need to find ways to help heal.”

The @blackatfss account shows that social media activism can have a real impact on our community. After student and alumni testimonies were posted, Head of School Michael Gary and Toni held a listening session with Black alumni and current students. Later on, they hosted a follow-up session in which Toni discussed the work she does and reported what will be done going forward. 

Additionally, Michael Gary and Toni have been working with alumni to create the Alums of Color group. The school is also looking at specific posts on the account and has addressed them at an administrators meeting and an upper school faculty meeting as part of a larger conversation about white supremacy, privilege, and fragility.

Although this work is far from over, FSS has made significant Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) changes in the past few years, such as hiring Toni. “Having a director of Diversity and Inclusion makes a big difference,” says Toni, “but there’s also been a whole lot more intentionality behind hiring practices.” Some progress has already been made: in 2016, Friends Select had no Black men on the faculty or administration. In 2020, we have seven.

“What I want to say really clearly is that I prefer for ongoing relationships to not be done in the anonymous,” says Toni. “I feel it is my duty and my position to find ways to bridge the chasm so we are having conversations that are not anonymous.” While doing this healing, Toni asks us to remember our specific community norm: ‘to expect and accept a lack of closure’. “This work is ongoing. We will always continue to work on being better and better.”