“It’s really important that we take a look at history, and how it reflects with us personally as individuals,” Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Danielle Suber said.
Suber has played a large role in organizing on-campus events to recognize and celebrate Black History Month at Malvern, ranging from informational powerpoints on the TVs around campus to educational lessons at lunch.
“I created those slideshows that will stay up all month as a nice background visual for students to check out. They have images and quotes of some significant people in African American history, and they have the schedule for the events during Black History Month,” Suber said.
One of the other events that Malvern offers during Black History Month is the new “Lunch and Learn,” which are four different days to educate students and faculty about different topics during their lunch.
“Mr. Coles [a Global Perspectives and African American History teacher] and I have partnered to go through four hundred years of African American history in four lessons,” Suber said.
The first of these lessons was on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, where the goal was to give students a better understanding of what slavery truly was.
“Our first lesson was to try and give students an idea of how slavery began and what happened, instead of the normal teaching of slavery,” Suber said. “We gave some more really gritty details that people don’t usually learn.”
Suber was very happy with the attendance of the first meeting, which included the current Head of School Father Donald Reilly O.S.A, and is looking forward to the upcoming “Lunch and Learn” sessions.
“Moving forward, we will be talking about Reconstruction and what happened to African Americans after slavery. After that, we will talk about the Civil Rights era, and then finally we will talk about the March to Washington,” Suber said.
When asked about the attendance at the sessions, Mr. Dante Coles had a slightly different take:
“I am happy with the numbers, but I am disappointed in the Upper School. This information is important to Malvern’s campus as Diversity is our number one priority throughout the community. Here is an opportunity that really comes once a year besides my class to learn. Sadly, the opportunity is not being taken advantage of….especially our Black and Brown students who don’t have much knowledge of their own people. So that was disappointing for me.”
These events offer insight that many students may not have been able to receive from their previous classes, and they are convenient for a Malvern student to attend.
Suber shared her thoughts further expressing what the impact can be to learn about Black History on Malvern’s campus.
“They’re really great opportunities for you to enjoy your lunch, eat, and learn a little bit about history in a way that you maybe have not heard about it before,” Suber said.
Coles and Suber both agree that these “Lunch and Learn” sessions can be beneficial learning experiences.
“I believe if the students at Malvern receive the true history of what Black people have been going through for 400+ years, then they have the education to be empathetic and understanding of actions. We need people to be leaders, not just an ally who stands behind or beside us. With the campus being a historically white campus, there is often only a particular perspective that the students grow up with, and to me that hinders the ability to be open-minded and understand others who don’t look like you,” Coles said.
Coles, who helped run the “Lunch and Learn” sessions, along with Mr. LeRoi Leviston, the Learning Support and Adv. Life Management teacher, are both preparing to start their classes next academic year that will offer insight into Black History.
“[Coles will teach] African American History for the second year, and he has some really cool perspectives and ways for people to learn about that,” Suber said.
Leviston will be starting to teach a Literature and History of Hip Hop class, which will have a lot of correlations with African American history.
“Hip hop is a huge part of African American culture. It’s not just about the lyrics and the music, it really gives it a place for people to learn about the culture, and what African Americans go through. It’s kind of a nice glimpse into what the world could be for them,” Suber said.
Leviston is also a practicing artist and will be able to bring a unique view to the class.
“He’s very immersed in this world, so I’m really excited about being able to bring hip hop culture here to Malvern. To be able to learn about literature and lyricists is very important; the lyrics of songs are very meaningful in hip hop and they come from a place that can have pains, struggles, or triumphs,” Suber said. “I can’t think of a better person to really help our students dig a little bit deeper past the lyrics and a little bit more into the culture and what you can learn about African American history based on it, as well as dispel the myths of things that are associated with African American culture that don’t necessarily go with hip hop.”
When asked about how she wanted Malvern to continue to grow with its learning on diversity, equity, and inclusion, Suber expressed interest in keeping these conversations and experiences alive and well all year.
“We always want to continue evolving, and equally celebrate all months. I also want us to get out of the idea that only one month represents a particular culture, as we want to continue having these conversations outside of the month that they’re represented,” Suber said.
There have been many people involved in helping celebrate these months, ranging from students to faculty members.
“I’m also very pleased with the faculty and staff, and the Black Student Union, as they do a wonderful job of coming and supporting events as well,” Suber said.
When asked about the impact celebrating Black History Month can have at Malvern, the current Head of School, Father Reilly, believed it will have a positive benefit to the Malvern community.
“Malvern values community as an integral part of its Augustinian heritage. Any program, project, or consideration to deepen our communal bond is a good and worthwhile endeavor. Black History Month is an occasion for us to not only recall and recognize the many distinctive inventions and innovative thinking black men and women have contributed to our world; it motivates us to expand our definition of what an inclusive and welcoming community should be,” Reilly said.
Reilly recognizes Suber as a key component in organizing these events and has noticed her hard work to try and make a positive difference in the Malvern community.
“Black History Month is one of those opportunities, among others, that focuses our attention on who in our community made a qualitative difference in our lives. In a given academic year, Ms. Suber designs, implements, and encourages Malvern to be the best version of itself by valuing diversity of thought as well as equity of relationships. She has made a terrific difference on campus,” Reilly said.
Celebrating Black History Month can be a learning opportunity for the students, and Father Reilly describes how critical it is for the students to learn more and celebrate it.
“Our country espouses the attribute of cultural pluralism, i.e. from our origins, we are a nation of diverse people called to recognize and respect each one’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Except for indigenous people, all of us have roots and ancestry elsewhere. Best expressed in E pluribus unum, out of many, one, we attempt to create a viable society where all can thrive as intentional creations of God made in His image. Black History Month, again, calls us as the U.S. Bishops say: “.. to listen and know the stories of our brothers and sisters. We must create opportunities to hear, with open hearts, the tragic stories that are deeply imprinted on the lives of our brothers and sisters, if we are to be moved with empathy to promote justice,” Reilly said.
Over the last couple of years, there have been a lot of changes inside and outside of the Malvern community, and Father Reilly reflects on how Malvern has reacted to these changes, such as with conversations, course offerings, homilies, and events.
“Over the last four years, our world has witnessed an escalation in racial tension, especially in our country. Slogans and movements from “Defund the police” to “Black Lives Matter,” from George Floyd’s death to the debate about Critical Race Theory and what should/should not be taught in schools, etc. have found us relying on our Catholic and Augustinian heritage. We are attempting to adhere to our mission to prepare students for a world that is a pressure cooker of opposing opinions and values as to what is real and true,” Reilly said. “What we have done these past couple of years is to engage one another through Courageous Conversations, course offerings, events, homilies, presentations, etc. to talk to one another about differences. Ms. Suber has encouraged and facilitated many of these conversations in collaboration with her colleagues on the faculty and staff. We are building a culture of concern for one another’s point of view to learn and grow as a community. Malvern has the confidence to listen, learn, and grow together from a shared experience of knowing that we will get to a better place, always a better version of ourselves. I think this is what you have seen in the past couple of years.”