News from the Hilltop

  • Snapshots of St. George's
The Beloved Community Initiative
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Over the course of the 2018-19 school year, students and faculty took part in the “Beloved Community Initiative,” a program focused on the history and legacy of race and slavery in the United States, Rhode Island, and St. George’s School.

Chaplain Jackie Kirby announced the initiative with a sermon in September 2018 and a mission “to move St. George’s closer to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described as the ‘Beloved Community,’ characterized by compassion, kindness, mutual understanding, and respect for the dignity of every human being.”

Funded by a grant from the George Arents Jr. Cerimon Fund, the “Beloved Community Initiative” was led by Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Kim Bullock, Associate Head for Student Life Mervan Osborne, Alyson Mulhern, P’19, ’21, and the Rev. Dr. Kirby.

It included a series of special guest speakers at events around campus throughout the year as well as an exhibit of historical artifacts in the Hunter Gallery of the Drury and Grosvenor Center for the Arts. In several instances, special guests met with students after their talks for roundtable follow-up discussions.

“We had a fantastic series of speakers who generated really interesting and thought-provoking conversations in our community,” Kirby said. “I think that through the series, the chapel visibly became a place where we live out our values as an inclusive community dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and truth.”

“One of the broad aims of the initiative is to help us develop self-knowledge and to learn from our past, so that we can become the kind of community we aspire to be,” she added. “I hope that we took a step in that direction, and I'm looking forward to continuing with the effort next year.”

The program’s first guest speaker was former SG Chaplain Hays Rockwell. He delivered a special chapel service address in October about his experience as the advisor to Conrad Young, the first black student to attend St. George's. The next guest speaker, reporter and editor Timothy Phelps '65, followed a few weeks later. He spoke about his experience going to school with Young and the impact that had on him.

Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island, the Right Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely Jr., and Rabbi Dr. Loel Martin Weiss were the next guest speakers at a special Martin Luther King Jr. Day chapel service where both spoke on what Martin Luther King Jr.'s often-used phrase "Beloved Community" means to them. Celebrated author and journalist Sylvester Monroe '69, P'95 (pictured above) spoke in chapel about his time as part of the first ABC (A Better Chance) cohort of black students at SG and how far the school has come since then.

Local historian Keith Stokes visited campus to speak to students during a special Community Life Programming event in February 2019 where he described the arrival of enslaved Africans to Newport and the later development of some of the earliest African, religious, civic and educational institutions in America.

Stokes also helped curate a month-long Spring Artifacts Exhibit in the Hunter Gallery, which included 18th and 19th century pamphlets on African enslavement and trade, original 19th century abolitionist books associated with Newport religious and civic leaders, and photographs of 19th century African American Newport life.

To close out the first year of the “Beloved Community Initiative,” Dr. Bullock was the final speaker at chapel.

According to Bullock, the Beloved Community Initiative sought “to center our focus on gaining a broader understanding and appreciation of pivotal social justice moments in the school's history by reflecting on the experiences and stories of members of the broader St. George's community. Through educational programming, the initiative also sought to share the impact and history of African heritage and culture in our local community as well as provide context for understanding the connection between these historical events in today's current events and on St. George's campus."

Continuing the initiative

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The Beloved Community Initiative continued in 2019-20 school year, with a focus on gender and coeducation at St. George's.

Our first speaker will be Dean of Faculty and Staff Elizabeth Bickford in January 2020, who was one of the first female students to attend Middlesex School.

Alumni also returned to share their stories and experiences throughout the year, with Valerie McKee '77, The Rev. Cameron Reynolds Hardy '78, Bill Sistare '78, Tim Ghriskey '73, P '10, '13, Kim Hardy Erskine '80, and Imani Capri '97 (pictured above) all giving special chapel talks.