Teachers, staff, community leaders and students described their involvement in the first Black Female Summit held Sept. 29 and second annual Black Male Summit held Oct. 1, both at Evanston Township High School.

A panel composed of Nicole Parker, ETHS teacher; Camille Allen, student representative to the District 202 School Board; Ken Cherry, pastor and manager at Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center; Noah Pearson, ETHS senior; and Marcus Campbell, ETHS principal/assistant superintendent, talked about the preparation and outcome of the Summits’ activities.

About the Summits

About 440 students attended the Black Female Summit. Ninety-five percent either identified themselves as black or listed black as part of a biracial identity. The balance included Latina, white, Asian/Asian American and other students. There were 113 adult volunteers. Participants were serenaded by song, dance and spoken word upon arrival. The theme of the day was “Go Get It,” which was matched with a picture of a Sankofa bird, an African symbol expressing the importance of looking back and remembering one’s roots while moving forward.

Keynote speaker Phyllis Clark asked participants, “What’s going on in your circle?” She spoke of self- esteem and colorism.

Dr. Witherspoon told the young women, “Your life matters.” A session on communication explored how teens can better address each other, “in appropriate terms to live up, not tear down.” The day-long summit concluded with a healing session at which students were allowed to share their thoughts and reactions about the day.

Five hundred twenty-three students attended the Black Male Summit, 433 of whom identified themselves as black, 49 as Latino, 22 as biracial or multiracial, 13 as white, four as American Indian or Alaskan Native and six as Asian/Asian American.

Niles North High School sent 25 students and the Latin School of Chicago sent five students. There were 88 adult volunteers. The theme for the Summit was “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”

Actor and Northwestern University alum Harry Lennix, the keynote speaker, addressed systematic racism. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz each spoke to the crowd. Small-group sessions on problem-solving incorporated discussions and role-play exercises. In the afternoon, participants attended career clusters where they could network and make connections with people in the community in various fields.

Evonda Thomas-Smith, Public Health Director for the City of Evanston, sent video comments about her involvement with the Black Female Summit. She said it was a “great concept” and that ETHS is a “maverick” for how it “decided to respond to the achievement gap.” Moving forward, she said she would like to see “more clarity of expectations of the day.”

Nicole Parker, an ETHS teacher for 20 years, said the “social and emotional side” of students is addressed through these summits, which is a “move in the right direction.” She added that “it’s powerful to have community members come in the doors to work, to lend a hand. It’s phenomenal for young people to see that the community is invested in them.”

ETHS student Camille Allen said she appreciated that students were involved in the planning. She “didn’t know what to expect” but since the Black Female Summit, there has been a “sense of sisterhood and connection” in the school.

Mr. Cherry said the Black Male Summit is, “an example of all that is good in the lives of African American men,” that despite “negative images,” the young men came together “with no issues.” The Summit, he said, is an “opportunity not only to educate, but prepare” ETHS students.

Noah Pearson, ETHS student, labeled the Summit, “the most important event at this school,” saying, “It has changed me.” His only suggestion was to allow more time in the break-out sessions.

Board Reaction

Board Member Monique Parsons said, “It was important for me to be there as a black woman and as a community leader. It was probably the most powerful thing I’ve ever done in my life. To be a part of a School District that recognizes how important this is and to be bold enough to do it, and to do it against all odds and to do it with people questioning your integrity, your validity, your heart, and telling you that because you are doing this for a certain group you don’t care about other groups, and that has never been the case.

“Then to see the young women come together proved to me we are changing lives and that we can’t stop in spite of those who would like us to stop,” Ms. Parsons said. “This work is critical, not just for the young black women and men who participated, but critical for all students at ETHS, to understand that we are determined that all students are successful when they walk out of ETHS and see the world as it exists. This community recognizes how critical it is to stop talking, and recognize that we are part of a School District that understands that not all lives are the same, not all are equal, and that we understand that and are doing something to prepare our students. I’ve been in youth development work for over 20 years, and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Anne Sills said she is “proud ETHS values students enough to offer this.” Doug Holt said he appreciated that the Summits “tied back to the [District] goals and equity statement in a creative way. I look forward to other programs as you expand the program.” Jonathan Baum thanked members of the community “for taking time away from their jobs to invest in your young people. It makes me proud to live in a community where service is important.” Pat Savage-Williams, Board president, said we live in a community where we “have many challenges, and we have to be creative, not just talk, but take action for the sake of our students. I’m proud we don’t turn our heads and pretend everything is okay.”

Next Steps

Mr. Campbell, during his presentation to the Board, said these summits are the first in the Social Consciousness Series. The District is also looking into future events for Latino students, a session dealing with gender inequality relating to STEM, and an event for disabled students.

Through these inaugural summits, “It’s clear that all students have potential, but we are learning how to remove barriers that hinder that growth for some students, particularly students of color,” said Mr. Campbell. “Students want to engage in dialogue that centers their experiences, challenges, and aspirations while also inserting critical knowledge. Students are willing to open up during deep discussion if their educator is willing to do so as well. Students are able to connect intersecting struggles between race, gender, sexuality, etc., and so ETHS must encourage students to think critically and ask questions in order to grasp things at the root.”