Seventh Biannual Unity Day
On Friday, December 9th, the Chappaqua Central School District held its seventh biannual Unity Day, an event initiated and sustained by the Horace Greeley BIPOC Student Union (BSU). Members of the Greeley BSU worked with other Greeley student organizations to create a day when their school community could intentionally commit and recommit itself to recognizing that every member of our community is valued and that every member of our community belongs.
The following student organizations including Alliance for Equality, Asian American Pacific Islander Association (AAPIA), The Breakfast Club, the Democratic Socialists Club, Educate Now On Understanding Genocide and Hate (ENOUGH), Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), South Asian Middle Eastern Society (SAMES), Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), the Sustainability Club, and the Student Government all worked alongside BSU to plan and facilitate this year’s Unity Day.
The day culminated in shared learning experiences in all of our schools, including keynote speakers in our middle and high schools. Students participated in a range of valuable learning opportunities aligned with the District’s efforts to cultivate equitable, affirming, and culturally responsive learning environments. Unity Day concluded our celebration of National Inclusive Schools Week and provided our school community the opportunity to learn about how all students can feel affirmed and welcome in our schools.
At each school level, students from Greeley’s BSU welcomed students and introduced the Unity Day events. BSU Co-President Joyce Chen shared, “Unity day is about creating connections through courageous conversations. If just one person feels a little bit more seen or valued, the day is a success in my eyes.” (...continued below...)
In our elementary schools, Unity Day classroom conversations focused on student identity, empathy, and a shared understanding of how individuals come together to form a strong community. Greeley BSU leaders introduced the session, sharing ideas about how to promote equity and belonging in our schools. All students participated in a read-aloud of the book, I Am Every Good Thing, by Derrick Barnes. After the read-aloud, each student received a blank page with a quote from the book; “I am every good thing. The best thing about me is…” Students then finished the sentences and designed their own pages, which were all assembled to create a book for the classroom library.
Students learned from author Matt de la Peña, who read his book, Patchwork, and spoke about the inspiration for his writing. This keynote session was followed by advisory-group listening circles and activities focused on developing and sustaining a sense of belonging. This work ties closely to the District's goal of creating culturally responsive learning environments through discussions around texts.
BSU students first introduced Unity Day, encouraging our fifth and sixth graders to be inclusive, make a change in their communities, and participate in events like Unity Day “so that every single student can feel like they belong . . . Be open to learning, stay engaged in hard conversations, and let yourself take the time to make change for the better.”
In the morning, our eighth-grade students, as part of the social studies classes, had the opportunity to learn about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II from the first-hand account of Dr. Kenji Ima. In the afternoon, Dr. Ima’s daughter, Kim Ima, also visited the high school to speak to students about her father’s experiences.
The afternoon keynote featured Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Sealey-Ruiz spoke about how critical love–a profound and ethical commitment to the communities we serve–can serve as a catalyst for creating and sustaining a sense of belonging and purpose for our students and staff.
Dr. Sealey-Ruiz discussed the components of racial literary development. She reminded us all that “the foundation starts with critical love.” Dr. Sealey-Ruiz talked about students’ roles in leading social justice movements and the power of our current generation to make change. She also reminded them to rest, recharge, and to also see the beauty around them.
Following the keynote, students in grades 7 and 8 participated in advisory listening circles, while at Greeley students participated in a choice learning session led by their peers. Over 40 sessions were facilitated by student leaders, exploring topics like action steps for anti-racism, identifying bias, microaggressions, and representation in the media.
BSU Vice President Ava Herman, reflected, "Unity Day is an extremely special and fundamental day where the entire community can come together to devote time for learning and growing. It is only when we take what we learn and apply it to everyday life, that we can really make change. I believe that if we continue doing this powerful work, we as a community can change for the better."