Community / Opinion

Strength through vulnerability

A month ago, I became a stronger version of myself.

Surrounded by students and adults who were willing to be completely open, I became aware of all the different aspects of diversity: racial identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, family structure, and physical as well as mental ability. Through understanding the stories of others, I learned how to better understand and accept myself. I witnessed two students come out of the closet for the first time to an audience of 1,500 and heard multiple students share personal stories about overcoming addictions and abuse.

Along with five other Dana Hall students, I attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in November in Maryland. I’m still not convinced that I’ve found the right words to capture my experience there. In the days after returning, each time someone asked how it was, I was lost for words, still too caught up in the excitement of meeting hundreds of like-minded students, undoubtedly the most diverse group I’ve ever met, but also so incredibly united in their hope for a better future.

At its core, SDLC was about acceptance. 1,500 students came together because they wanted to be there. They didn’t care if you were gay or straight, rich or poor, black or white or any shade in between. A friend from London, Maalik Mbatch, described, “I saw all colors of the rainbow and at the same time none.” Noor Samee, a student from Virginia, said, “We took a glimpse at the ideal society where everyone accepted, loved, and cared for one another. It gave us opportunities to be ourselves and shine as individuals.”

It was self-discovery and awareness, acceptance, and meaningful conversations. It was being stripped down to my most raw, vulnerable self, sharing everything but not fearing judgment. It was finding people who genuinely cared, people who didn’t feel like they needed to restrict or filter themselves. It was respect in its purest form. It was understanding and a willingness to listen, and the only reason why it worked was because each person there was just as vulnerable as the next and was okay with that.

The conference was led, for the most part, by Rodney Glasgow, who a friend later described to me as a mix between Beyoncé and Jesus. Glasgow has been with SDLC since the very beginning, and this year was the keynote speaker in celebration of SDLC’s 20th anniversary. Within only a few minutes of our arrival, he welcomed us all: “In this house we shall love. In this house we shall seek justice. In this house who you are is okay. And who you will be is even better. In this house you will find comfort. In this house you will find soul food. In this house you are safe.”

While it would be impossible to recreate my experience at SDLC, I left with the understanding that it does not take a conference like that one to open up for discussions about diversity. A simple conversation can completely change the way that you view yourself and others. Every single person has a story and only the willingness to listen can pave the way for wide-scale acceptance.

This week, take a second to talk to the person sitting next to you in Waldo. Sit at a new table at lunch. Go to a SHADES meeting. Say “hi” to a new student. Stop groaning at diversity awareness assemblies. Walk with a purpose. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Demonstrate the respect that everyone deserves.

After all, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Photo: Dana Hall students attend the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in November 2013. Photo credit: Kristin Ryan.

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