Eighth graders Nadia Lewis, Zahara Al-Uqdah, and El Cheshire prepare to feast during African Diaspora Day in the Middle School.
Eighth graders Nadia Lewis, Zahara Al-Uqdah, and El Cheshire prepare to feast during African Diaspora Day in the Middle School.
Tyler Cox

Friends Celebrates 2nd African Diaspora Day

The Middle School spent the day exploring everything from celebratory dances to serious conversations, new foods to art-making.

On a bright day in early fall, Friends’ Middle School had its second annual African Diaspora Day. Students attended a variety of demonstrations and workshops, and parent volunteers served an array of food from across the diaspora. Students had wide smiles, full stomachs, and a lot of new knowledge when the day came to an end. 

“Middle School needed this day. Black History Month isn’t enough,” said Zahara Al-Uqdah ‘28. 

The day began with a dance performance by Nelson Amazing, a Tanzanian dancer. During the show, many students joined Nelson on stage to demonstrate the new dance moves they had learned.

“I wish I could’ve been up there,” said Kamari Holland ’30. Other students like Eliot Lawner ‘29 and Dean Davis ‘28 also said that they loved the dance.

Parent volunteers serve a bountiful buffet of foods from across the diaspora. (Marvin Jones-Tobin)

Afterward, students attended a variety of workshops, ranging from light to heavy topics. In a workshop centered around reparations, students learned about US history and engaged in discussions about the current reparations debate.

In the History of Hip Hop session, led by Tara Smith ‘24 and Ky Mason ‘24, students learned about the history and rise of Hip Hop, then tested their knowledge with a trivia game.

In a workshop about African mythology, students made their own superheroes based on the myths they learned about.

Bianca Washington, an admissions counselor, also led a trivia session. 

“They were all very excited to learn,” she said. “I was surprised how many answers they knew to the questions.”

One of the highlights of the day among students was lunch. The food was a giant spread of food from all across the African diaspora, including jerk chicken, oxtail, and other delicious options.

For many students, a day that was dedicated to sharing cultural foods, stories, and backgrounds made them feel seen and valued in the Friends School community.

“Everyone has a part to play, and we all need to hear each other’s input,” said El Cheshire ‘28. At her old school, El said, culture was not celebrated or talked about. At Friends, she finds the representation and celebration welcoming. Not only are students’ cultures discussed and learned about during the school day, she said, but having the whole day to celebrate is even more important. 

Zahara agreed that most years, she hears about her history primarily during black history month. Often, it’s not the good things that Black people have accomplished, but mostly about slavery and oppression. 

Middle School needed this day. Black History Month isn’t enough.

— Zahara Al-Uqdah ‘28

That’s the point of the day, says founder Erika Smith.

“Instead of talking about atrocities, instead of talking about the same ten people during Black History Month, we did something different,” Smith said. The history teacher and director of the Middle Grades Partnership Program says she started the day two years ago because some students and faculty members thought that Friends needed a celebration of the African diaspora.

“By framing the day in a way that is absolutely celebratory, you can have more difficult conversations later on,” she said.

But organizing it was no easy feat. Diaspora Day originally started as a seventh grade celebration. Turning it into a Middle School-wide event this year required a lot of work. The day was only achievable with the cooperation of parents, teachers, students, and administrators.

“It’s always a little bit challenging,” she said. “What went well was asking teachers who wanted to run a workshop, because then they were planning and creating workshops they loved.”

Art reacher Rodney Ruley serves food outside the Middle School on African Diaspora Day. (Erika Alamo)

For example, art teacher Rodney Ruley created a workshop based around patterns and artwork from the African diaspora.

Another important aspect of the day were parent volunteers. The volunteers cooked food, served students, and helped to set up and clean up the lunch tables.

When Upper School students saw how informative and festive the day was in Middle School, they began questioning why there isn’t a similar day in the Upper School.

“I thought it looked very cool. It seemed really fun,” said Mason Cost ‘25.

Manny Rodriguez, the school’s interim co-director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, co-ran the day this year. He said that an Upper School African Diaspora Day could be possible with a lot of work.

Middle School Dean of Students Chris McNeal agreed that the idea could be scaled up, if teachers and administrators were on board.

“It would be possible, but it would be harder, and we’d need to workshop it,” he says.

The student body of the Upper School is 342 students – notably larger than that of the Middle School, which has 193, according to the Admissions office. All teachers in the Upper School would have to be willing to give up another day of classes, to name a few of the obstacles planners would have to take into account.

Meantime, in the Middle School, dozens of people the Quill interviewed agreed that African Diaspora Day was worth all of the work that went into organizing it.

“I love this day,” says science teacher Ari McCown. “It’s something I never got to experience when I was younger, so being able to learn about different cultures like this is a fantastic experience.” 

African Diaspora Day in the Middle School speaks to the uniqueness of Friends’ diverse community. The annual celebration of cultural diversity is an important tradition to maintain – and maybe expand. It’s something students say they look forward to celebrating for years to come.


The following Quill writers contributed reporting for this article: Erika Alamo, Asher Blakeley, Keely Carter, Mason Cost, Tyler Cox, Macy Goldberg, Chloe’ Green, Keller Handwerk, Ronan Healy, Marvin Jones-Tobin, Evan Lawner, Ella Salvador, Hudson Weber, Ella Wilkerson, and Kaleb Younger

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