Alumni Advocate for Social Justice

A Safe Space for Students

Arielle Benjamin ’17, a junior at Spence, is advocating for students of color at independent schools in New York City. Earlier this year, she connected with a group of students of color whose schools are members of the nonprofit organization Interschool. “Our goal is to create safe spaces for minority students,” she says. “Many of the racial issues we’re trying to tackle have been affecting students of color all over the country for ages.”

As she and her peers craft statements and demands to help alleviate the struggle many students of color face as they navigate predominantly white secondary schools, Arielle is hopeful that their efforts will make a difference. “It’s exciting to see so many students from different schools and backgrounds come together in this way.” 

Diversity at Camp

Adia Lara-Thein ’13, a junior at SUNY Purchase, spent this summer advancing diversity and inclusion at Dance New England, a family summer camp in Massachusetts. “There is a lack of diversity in the camp,” she says. “The community is big; about 1,000 people come. But my family has always been one of the few Black families there.”

After a few people spoke out about ways Black campers were made to feel uncomfortable, the camp’s board developed a committee charged with creating a more inclusive community. Adia was asked to join. “During my first panel discussion, which was held on Zoom with more than 80 members watching, I spoke about my experiences with racism and the importance of strengthening the camp community,” she says. “I’m happy to be a part of the committee because I want to be a catalyst for change.”

Demanding Justice

The Black Lives Matter movement has spurred many young people to action, including alumni Jalen Nougues ’13 and Kennedy Murray ’16, both of whom participated in peaceful protests this year. “My mom and I made signs, and we attended a Black Lives Matter protest together,” says Jalen, a junior at Catholic University. “It was a very moving experience for me. A lot of people are misinformed because of what they see on social media. You learn a lot more by actually being there.”

Kennedy Murray, a junior at George Washington University, couldn’t agree more. She has attended Black Lives Matter and immigration reform protests this year. “As an Afro-Latina, I have Hispanic and Black family members, so I can personally relate to both situations,” she says. “It's not fair that Black college students, Black women, Black children, and especially Black men have to go through such hardship every day because of the color of their skin. The immigration protest also hit home for me because I couldn't imagine my family having to leave this country after creating a life here for more than 15 years.”

She and Jalen hope their participation in these critical movements inspires others to do the same. As Jalen puts it, “This time, this moment, is different.”
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Harlem Academy is an independent school (grades K-8) that drives equity of opportunity for promising students, guiding them to thrive at the highest academic levels and one day make a mark on the world.