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PS Community Participates In Equity Day Workshops
Marquis Austin & Monica Chen

Following Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Lewis's Equity Day keynote address last Monday, the Prep School participated in workshops addressing diversity, equity and inclusion and the steps people can take to engender a more just society for all. Hosted by special guest speakers, such as journalist Ted Genoways and community organizer Rev. Miller Jen Hoffman, and CGPS community members, workshops focused on bias in artificial intelligence, combatting anti-Semitism, leveraging social media to advocate for social justice and much more.

Award-winning photographer and filmmaker Sebastian Meyer spoke in a workshop hosted by Amnesty International: "Photojournalism as Activism." He shared photographs he took in Iraq during the last days of the US military presence and pictures of the once-thriving but now struggling town of Coshocton, Ohio. Seeing his work, students were curious about how Mr. Meyer chose which stories to cover. Mr. Meyer explained that he is driven by his curiosity. This inquisitiveness always helps him push past the fear when his work leads him into potentially dangerous situations.  

Through his art, Mr. Meyer strives to portray people as human beings and help viewers look past any connotations that may accompany a specific socioeconomic status, race or religion. He hopes people will realize the similarities between their own lives and those of the people in his photographs. As an example, Mr. Meyer shared a photo of a mother and child in their yard, stating that people could see the image and relate it to their own life, perhaps thinking, "That's just like how my mom and I like to spend time together." 

During another workshop—"From Comb Enterprises to Robin Hood"—Robin Hood Foundation COO Derek Ferguson spoke about how he went from helping Sean "Diddy" Combs launch several successful business ventures to fighting poverty in New York City. Mr. Ferguson guided students and faculty through his early days as a management consultant for Bain & Company, a period in his career he said helped him "answer the question of what makes one business successful versus another." Eager to learn more about the ever-changing music industry, Mr. Ferguson soon jumped at the chance to join the Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), a music conglomerate that owned 50% of Bad Boy Records, in 1996. "Sean 'Diddy' Combs came calling a couple of years into my stint at BMG, and he was looking for a chief financial officer," Mr. Ferguson recalled. "This was a music label that was literally at the top of the game. Sean's vision at the time was really about adding new businesses and using all that he had established from his music company to enter a new era." He decided to join Diddy in expanding Comb Enterprises and spent 19 years working for the music mogul. 

At Comb Enterprises, Mr. Ferguson was able to put his knowledge to good use as he saw ideas go from "sketches on pieces of paper" to businesses generating "hundreds of millions in sales" but eventually found himself wanting to take his career in a more altruistic direction. He credited starting the Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School as an experience that opened his eyes to New York City's significant disparities. "I started just thinking about what I could do that would be more purposeful and have more of an impact on the city," he said. Fortunately, his friend Wes Moore, CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, was looking for a COO. 

Today, Mr. Ferguson works with the Robin Hood Foundation to lift households out of poverty and advocate for racial equity. "We raise capital and then disperse that capital through grants to organizations within the city that are part of the poverty-fighting effort. We fund over 250 organizations," he said. Some of these organizations include Achievement First, the Coalition for the Homeless, the Goddard Riverside Community Center and the Legal Aid Society. 

Mr. Ferguson presented the workshop group with data depicting the correlation between poverty and race. He described how the median net wealth of Black households is 90% less than the median net wealth of white households and how Black college graduates, on average, earn less money than white high school dropouts. "A lot of these disparities are rooted in systems that haven't been fair for a long time," Mr. Ferguson pointed out. Through Robin Hood's philanthropic endeavors, he has learned firsthand that equity is a justice issue and not an economic one.

After a day of workshops and discussion group sessions, the PS community reconvened to reflect. "If there's one thing that the pandemic, our struggles with racial injustice and today's equity lessons taught us is that we must put people first. People understanding each other, being empathetic—that's what's most important," said Prep School Director Joanie Dean. To conclude the event, she urged everyone to listen to each other and "reinforce the voices of those who you may not have heard from in the past." 

Thank you to the School's faculty and staff and student leaders of the Multi-Ethnic Cultural Awareness Club, the Queer Straight Alliance, the Environmental Club, the Asian Culture Club, Amnesty International, About Israel, World Issues Charities and Creating Gender Equity for organizing this important and impressive day of community building and connection. “Equity Day was a great success! I am impressed by how the faculty and staff embraced the vision of our students to bring the PS community together to focus on exploring identity and activism,” said technology teacher and MECA advisor Melanie Royster. “I'm equally inspired by the many students who engaged in listening and participating in important discussions, while others also took the initiative to facilitate workshops.” Science teacher and fellow MECA advisor Nick Verga agreed, saying, “It was wonderful to see student leaders guide the day and share their experiences with their peers"

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