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Every other year, the school sponsors a day of lectures and facilitated conversations for students in Grades 7-12: Celebrating Diversity: The Power of Personal Stories. Our goal is to provide a forum for all members of the Brentwood School community to discuss and grapple with issues related to diversity, as defined in terms of race, class, cultural identity, religion, family structure, gender, sexual orientation, learning styles, life experiences, and physical and mental differences. See below for information about the 2017 event...

2017 Schedule of the Day

8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.—Keynote Address
9:00 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.—Break and Book Signing
9:20 a.m. to 10:25 a.m.—Panel Discussion
10:25 a.m. to 10:35 a.m.—Spoken Word Poem
10:45a.m. to 11:40a.m.—Small Group Discussions
11:45a.m. to 12:45p.m.—International Lunch and Book Signing
12:55p.m. to 1:55p.m.—Breakouts: “Walk in my Shoes”
2:05p.m. to 3:00p.m—Upper School Small Group Discussions & MS Closing Keynote

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Triumph Over Adversity

Mr. Steve Pemberton is Divisional VP and Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens. Mr. Pemberton speaks from a deep understanding of what it means to be different. He is the son of a white mother and an African-American father and was a ward of the state of Massachusetts from the age of 3 and for much of his childhood, an experience he chronicled in his 2012 best-selling memoir, A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past and How he Found a Place Called Home.

PANEL DISCUSSION: The Influence of Pop Culture and Social Media

How do pop culture and social media influence the ways in which we talk about diversity, race, and inclusion today? Speaking with students who have grown up in a digital age about how they connect with popular culture is so very important, especially with the glut of information and highly biased “news” stories which tend to inundate Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. All individuals must have the skills to check the content, continuing imagery, and mass curated stories to make sure they pass the “smell test.” Memes seem to be the order of the day, but often, they take complex issues and either oversimplify or sensationalize them to the point of invalidating any accuracy they may contain.

Oversimplifying and passing off opinions as facts are at the root of many of the race and diversity issues we see in public online discourse as well as offline. In our “melting pot” society, cultural context and a historical perspective are fundamental to being a good citizen, by allowing us the opportunity for empathy and understanding so that we can avoid grossly offending any of our fellow Americans. And, let’s face it, “off color” jokes and comedy that thrive on bringing to light stereotypes and differences have at times made the person delivering such jokes appear successful rather than offensive or clueless.

On a broader scale, there is culture within culture, or what we call "pop culture," i.e., what is popular at the moment. Given the rich diversity of our pop culture, it is increasingly difficult to draw exact borders around what is and isn’t the cultural property of any one group of people.

This panel offers ideas for dealing with all of these challenges through exposure and honest, open dialogue.

Felicia McCrary, Moderator

Felicia McCrary is the current Director of Student Life at the Galloway School in Atlanta, GA. During her twenty years at Galloway, Miss McCrary has served in many roles in the community, but the one nearest and dearest to her heart was teaching World History to sophomores at Galloway for 15 years.

In pursuit of lifelong learning, Miss McCrary has engaged in many opportunities beyond her independent school career including presenting at several conferences, being selected for a month long Fulbright educational study in Japan, and working as a consultant for the College Board and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Miss McCrary has also worked with several independent schools in the Atlanta area and across the United States on a variety of issues around diversity, gender equity, student life, and curriculum development.

Miss McCrary holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s in education from Wake Forest University. A proud Demon Deacon, she is willing to support other teams in the ACC if there is a championship title up for grabs. Rumor has it that Miss McCrary knows nothing of spare time so she tends to fill her time outside of school with many things, particularly traveling and trying new restaurants. She has traveled to all but two continents, but has no plans to go to Antarctica for now. Favorite destinations include Venice, Tobago, South Africa, and Cuba.

Tshaka Armstrong

Tshaka Armstrong is a “tech guru” and the co-founder and CEO of the non-profit organization, Digital Shepherds. Its mission is to teach digital literacy to parents, and children and to be change agents, equipping America’s underserved youths with the computer science education and entrepreneurial experiences necessary to be informed, responsible, and competitive today and in the future. Mr. Armstrong is also a resident tech geek, reviewing and talking about technology and diversity in the media for Rotten Tomatoes, as well as for Fox 11 in Los Angeles on foxla.com He is also a board member of one of L.A.’s most innovative children’s technology/Maker organizations, L.A. Makerspace. But, as he shares: “First and foremost, I am the husband to an awesome wife and dad to three wonderful children.”

Kiran Gandhi

Kiran Gandhi—a Los Angeles-based musician, feminist activist and music industry thinker—has an A.B. from Georgetown and an M.B.A. from Harvard. She grew up between New York City and Bombay, India and attended The Chapin School. Ms. Gandhi has toured professionally, drumming for M.I.A. and Thievery Corporation, and currently produces electronic music under her own project called Madame Gandhi. Her goal is to combine her intellectual and musical talents in order to re-imagine a music industry that is healthier for women and girls around the world.

Carlos Andrés Gómez

Carlos Andrés Gómez—an award-winning poet, actor, speaker, and writer from New York City, He is the author of Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood, a powerful coming-of-age memoir that reimagines masculinity for the 21st century male. A former social worker and inner-city public school teacher, Mr. Gomez grew up the son of a United Nations diplomat and indigenous rights’ activist, moving 12 times and living in four countries before graduating high school. He has headlined festivals in countries around the world, including South Africa, Ireland, Spain, Canada, and the U.K., and he has spoken and performed at more than 300 high schools, colleges, and universities, facilitating countless workshops and delivering numerous keynotes and commencement addresses.

Mir Harris

Mir Harris—a graduate of Crossroads School, she came into the music industry at a very young age, beginning with internships at various labels—Virgin, Interscope and Universal—which solidified her love of music and business. This put her on a fast track as an entertainment industry professional. Ms. Harris received her A.B. in Political Science and Communications from UC San Diego. Deciding that she wanted to join her social activism with her career, she is currently venturing out on her own. Ms. Harris administrates her own company, Music and a Dream Productions, LLC, where she serves as a consultant, manager, and advocate for artist development as well as content curation and project branding.

Steve Levitan

Steve Levitan—a director, screenwriter, and producer of television comedies. Mr. Levitan has created such TV series as Just Shoot Me, Stark Raving Mad, and Modern Family. He grew up in Chicago, attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and is the father of three children, one of whom, Hannah, is a member of the class of 2011.

Jarvis Sam

Jarvis Sam—is the Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Snap, Inc. He oversees the recruiting, partnerships, and programmatic infrastructure for the company's various D&I initiatives for both business and technical capacities. He collaborates closely with groups like Women Who Code, Girls in Tech, the Society of Black Engineers and Management Leadership for Tomorrow to build programs internally and externally to facilitate strong workplace diversity at Snap, Inc. Prior to Snap, Inc. Sam worked as a diversity recruiter at Google primarily focused on hiring and developing programs for military veterans and women in engineering at the company. Before that, he spent some time as an oil & gas consultant with Deloitte Consulting in Houston. Jarvis is a graduate of Rice University where he studied History, Public Policy, and Sport Management with emphasis on race and gender rhetoric. In his spare time, Jarvis plays volleyball and dances competitively. He resides in Los Angeles, CA.

SPOKEN WORD POEM: Juan Valdez: Why is a White Boy Like You Named Carlos?

Performed by Carlos Andrés Gómez—an award-winning poet, actor, speaker, and writer from New York City. He is the author of Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood, a powerful coming-of-age memoir that reimagines masculinity for the 21st century male. A former social worker and inner-city public school teacher, Mr. Gomez grew up the son of a United Nations diplomat and indigenous rights’ activist, moving 12 times and living in four countries before graduating high school. He has headlined festivals in countries around the world, including South Africa, Ireland, Spain, Canada, and the U.K., and he has spoken and performed at more than 300 high schools, colleges, and universities, facilitating countless workshops and delivering numerous keynotes and commencement addresses.

BREAKOUTS: Walk in My Shoes

A. White Privilege

“What do you mean privilege? I don’t feel privileged?” That’s how the presenters felt the first time someone talked to them about the advantages white people experience just because society perceives them as white. Without shame or blame, Shelly Tochluk and Matt Harper share their stories of coming to understand how race and privilege have impacted their lives. Most importantly, they share how essential it has been to know that there are many aspects of life that offer advantage or disadvantage (i.e. gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, citizenship status). Race is just one of them. So, it’s common to feel disadvantaged in some areas while being advantaged in others. During this session, Tochluk and Mr. Harper will discuss how white privilege has affected them and what it has meant for their relationships across race. They will also talk about how a dedication to continuing to deepen this awareness has increased their ability to feel confident when talking about race, supported them to develop a healthy and positive anti-racist white identity, and allowed them to make a commitment to racial justice as a personal investment, not out of pity or guilt.

Presenters

Matt Harper is a homeless services coordinator/advocate, soup kitchen organizer, and writer. Having grown up in a wealthy, white suburb of Los Angeles, Matt Harper was sheltered from many of the complexities and injustices around him. Through his undergraduate and graduate studies, he became conscious of systemic injustice and explored the concepts behind and the lived dimensions of this oppression. His years as a teacher in a Central American prison and a Los Angeles middle school provided additional context and experience. He now works on Skid Row helping to run a soup kitchen with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker community. In addition to providing for the immediate needs of the downtown homeless population, he also works with local organizations to fight for the rights of those on Skid Row. Mr. Harper’s activism has engaged issues such as human trafficking, the death penalty, supply chain accountability, militarization, police brutality, and more. He is an active writer and has published on topics such as non-violence, racism, sexism, classism, and privilege for a number of different publications. He is also actively involved in anti-racist work through White People 4 Black Lives, which serves to organize white people to support black-led liberation work.

Shelly Tochluk is the Chair of the Education Department at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles. An educator, with a background in psychology, Tochluk spent ten years as a researcher, counselor, and teacher in California’s public schools. She now trains teachers to work with Los Angeles’ diverse school population as Chair of the Education Department at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles. She is the author of Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk About Race and How to Do It. An 11-part workshop series aligned with the book is available for free download at www.ShellyTochluk.com. Tockluk’s new book is titled Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice. This book invites readers to take a deep look into their own lives in order to answer the question, how does spirituality go hand in hand with racial justice? Where do disconnections exist? She also works with AWARE-LA (Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere-Los Angeles). With this group, she co-produces a 4-day summer institute titled, Unmasking Whiteness, that leads white people into a deeper understanding of their personal relationship to race, white privilege, and systemic racism.

B. Gay/Lesbian/Transgender Athletes

The journey of LGBT athletes for acceptance, fairness, justice, and equal opportunity has been, and continues to be, a slow one. Like other civil rights causes, societal progress requires a collective effort. In this case, it has to be a partnership between professional player organizations, team owners, professional leagues and teams, gay and straight athletes, and fans. Come hear the personal stories of three outstanding athletes and role models who now live their lives authentically.

“People may hate you for being different and not living by society’s standards but deep down, they wish they had the courage to do the same.” – Author Unknown

Presenters

Angela Hucles is the founder and CEO of Empowerment Through Sport. Ms. Hucles is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist for US Soccer, two-time World Cup Bronze Medalist, former professional soccer player for the Boston Breakers, and the US Soccer Foundation’s 2009 Humanitarian of the Year.

With a passion for helping others achieve their goals and dreams and over 25 years’ experience in the sports industry, she founded Empowerment Through Sport, LLC in 2012, an organization focused on discovering sports leadership skills and athlete transitions that translate to life success. Ms. Hucles has become a regular speaker on topics of sports leadership, equality, inclusion and safe spaces, anti-bullying, and the power of sport and its impact on personal growth and development. She currently serves as the Women's Sports Foundation President, founded by Billie Jean King.

U.S. Women’s National Team leading scorer in the 2008 Olympic Games, Ms. Hucles played her inaugural season of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) for the Boston Breakers. She stepped into the soccer scene for USA in 2002 and started in 48 of her 109 career caps—ranking 24th on the all-time U.S. caps list.

Chris Mosier is an athlete, coach, and educator, and the founder of TransAthlete.com. In 2015, he became the first openly trans man to make a Men's US National Team. Following the national championship race, Mr. Mosier was instrumental in getting the International Olympic Committee policy on transgender athletes changed, and in June 2016 he became the first trans athlete to compete in a world championship race under the new rules, where he was the second fastest American man in his group. Mr. Mosier is a two-time member of Team USA, representing the United States in the short course and long course duathlon, which is a run/bike/run event.

He is also a nationally recognized three-time Ironman triathlete, and inductee into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. He was featured in a Nike commercial which aired during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Mr. Mosier has been featured in publications including ESPN The Magazine, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and Esquire, and has written about his experiences for publications including The Advocate, the Pride Network, OutSports, and Compete Magazine.

Mr. Mosier was a silver medalist in triathlon at the 2014 Gay Games. He has been named to The Advocate Magazine's 40 Under 40, the Trans 100 list, the GOOD 100 list, and is featured in the 2016 Out 100 list. He is a Nike sponsored athlete.

For much of his life, Robbie Rogers lived in paralyzing fear that sharing his big secret would cost him both his family’s love and his hard-won career as a professional soccer player. He could be a pro athlete. Or he could be an out gay man. He couldn’t do both. Then at twenty-five, after nearly stepping away from a brilliant career—one that included competing in the Olympics, playing for Leeds United, and winning the MLS Cup—Mr. Rogers chose to finally tell the truth. But instead of the rejection that he had feared for so long, he was embraced—by his family, by his teammates, and by his fans. His new memoir, Coming Out to Play, shares his remarkable story and inspires readers to embrace their true selves and not let anything get in the way of the life they have imagined.

In addition to his roles with the Galaxy and Halsey, Mr. Rogers is also a cofounder of and ambassador for the Beyond “it” campaign, a non-profit organization fighting stereotypes.

In his lectures, he takes audiences on his incredible journey from a terrified teenager to a trailblazing out-and-proud pro soccer player for LA Galaxy, who has embraced his new identity as a role model for those still struggling with the secrets that keep them from fully living their dreams.

Book signing to follow.

C. Living in a "Prime" State of Ubiquitous Being

Can we be everywhere at the same time? Of course we cannot, but we can be elite in how we think, live, and strive to reach our goals.

Presenter

Tim Dennison is an inspirational speaker who will share his personal journey and his approach to living life fully—from the grit and reality of life on the street as a member of a gang engaged in drug dealing and violence and of being in and out of juvenile hall, group homes, and various gang intervention programs, to his time in the U.S. Army, to earning his EMT and nursing degrees, and recently to graduating from culinary school. Not forgetting the 60-plus funerals of his friends he has attended over the years, Mr. Dennison has devoted his time to motivating parents and youth regardless of their social, ethnic, or economic backgrounds, by speaking at juvenile halls, prisons, churches, schools, and colleges.

D. The Immigrant Experience

The United States is a country of immigrants that have come to pursue the promised “American Dream” of new opportunities. Because of this, our country has become one of the most diverse countries in the world, where people seek brighter futures for both themselves and their loved ones. Some come with little to nothing other than the clothes on their backs and full of determination to get ahead. One of the things that is never lost in the process of acculturation is their cultural identities—the customs, traditions, and beliefs that are the channels that keep their connection to their home countries thriving even after years of living in the United States.

These immigrants’ rich, varied cultural identities have created the diversity that is now integral to life in the United States, resulting in many new experiences for members of our society as well as very real challenges that are surfacing more openly today. Due to this we have seen a growing trend toward multiculturalism, and terms like “melting pot” are being replaced with new metaphors, such as a “salad bowl” or a “mosaic”—a mixture of various individuals who keep their unique characteristics while helping to transform our country into a truly multicultural society.

Come hear five students, the first generation in their families to have been born in the United States, share their families’ immigration experiences, and the struggle between the culture they are immersed in at Brentwood and their personal family culture at home. They will also discuss their experiences of being placed “in a box” or labeled because of their name, appearance, or cultural identity.

Moderators

Mr. Rob Jost, Human Development and Counseling, Upper School
Ms. Maggie Lara, Library Assistant, East Campus

E. Personal and Inspirational Stories of “Differently-abled” Individuals

Come hear the inspirational and personal stories of two "differently-abled" individuals.

Presenters

Nick Ekbatani is a Los Angeles based speaker, personal trainer, athlete, and advocate for equality. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mr. Ekbatani found solace and sanctuary during his troubled childhood in athletics, primarily football. After finishing his football career as a two-year starter for the UCLA Bruins, he developed his own fitness philosophy and concept, losing over 100 lbs. in the process.

In 2012, Mr. Ekbatani was involved in a catastrophic motorcycle accident which nearly claimed his life and ultimately caused the amputation of his left leg below the knee. More than a dozen surgeries and countless setbacks have only served to strengthen him along his journey. Gifted with perspective and an undying passion for his “second chance” at life, he aims to serve by inspiring people to live their best lives uninhibited by fear and self-limiting beliefs.

Mr. Ekbatani is a recent MBA graduate of the Marshall School of Business at USC, and you can catch him leading highly energizing and inspiring group fitness classes at various studios in Los Angeles, primarily on the westside.

Mia Schaikewitz is an inspirational speaker and inclusion advocate. At age 15, she was a rising star on her high school swim team and training for a new season when suddenly one evening she found herself unable to move her legs. Within 12 hours, doctors discovered that an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) had ruptured in her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. With resilient determination and a positive attitude, Ms. S. moved forward to pursue her life goals. She finished high school and then attended the University of Florida where she thrived academically as well as socially, becoming the first woman in a wheelchair there to rush and join a sorority.

After graduating with a degree in Media Production, Ms. S. moved to Los Angeles where she successfully built careers in sound design and then graphic design and branding. In 2012, she became one of the stars of the critically acclaimed show Push Girls on Sundance Channel. During its second season, the show won the Critic’s Choice Award for “best reality Series” and continues to successfully debunk negative misconceptions about living with a disability, inspiring audiences worldwide. Ms. S. has made many media appearances, among them CNN, Good Morning America, and Ellen.

In addition to her design and media endeavors, she educates and speaks publicly to promote women’s empowerment and diversity inclusion in the media, workplace, and athletics. After a 17-year hiatus from competitive swimming, Ms. S. returned to the sport and participates in multiple adaptive sports organizations to encourage independence and rehabilitation for people with physical challenges. Her latest passion project is centered on developing Infinite Flow, America’s first wheelchair ballroom dance company.

F. Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood (students only)

Masculinity is at a crisis point—widespread sexual assault, gun violence, hazing, and bullying have become unwelcome but all too visible incidents on college campuses across the country. Even in a society seemingly moving towards a more socially progressive norm, the state of modern manhood seems as stagnant as ever. Carlos Andrés Gómez wants to change this.

With a dynamic speaking experience that incorporates spoken word, improv, and personal narrative, Gómez gives young men permission to be the civic leaders and powerful role models their campuses and our world truly need. Gómez will challenge young men to rethink how they interact with women, deal with violence, handle fear, and express emotion. Called a “truth-telling visionary” and a “lyrical prophet,” Gómez’s words offer audience members across the gender spectrum a truly unique, inspiring, and accessible invitation for each of them to become their fullest, best, most authentic selves.

Please note that this session will be open to students only.

Presenter

Carlos Andrés Gómez—an award-winning poet, actor, speaker, and writer from New York City, He is the author of Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood, a powerful coming-of-age memoir that reimagines masculinity for the 21st century male. A former social worker and inner-city public school teacher, Mr. Gomez grew up the son of a United Nations diplomat and indigenous rights’ activist, moving 12 times and living in four countries before graduating high school. He has headlined festivals in countries around the world, including South Africa, Ireland, Spain, Canada, and the U.K., and he has spoken and performed at more than 300 high schools, colleges, and universities, facilitating countless workshops and delivering numerous keynotes and commencement addresses.

G. Making the Unconscious Conscious

Culture matters. Every culture has rules and guidelines for living that shape and sustain the culture, but it is often the unspoken rules and guidelines that hold the most power in a culture and can have a positive or negative impact on members of any community. This session will unpack some of the unspoken rules of Brentwood School culture. How do you know how to survive as a Brentwood student and navigate the culture? We will use Brentwood as a lens for looking at unspoken rules in society overall.

Presenter

Felicia McCrary is the current Director of Student Life at the Galloway School in Atlanta, GA. During her twenty years at Galloway, Miss McCrary has served in many roles in the community, but the one nearest and dearest to her heart was teaching World History to sophomores at Galloway for 15 years.

In pursuit of lifelong learning, Miss McCrary has engaged in many opportunities beyond her independent school career including presenting at several conferences, being selected for a month long Fulbright educational study in Japan, and working as a consultant for the College Board and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Miss McCrary has also worked with several independent schools in the Atlanta area and across the United States on a variety of issues around diversity, gender equity, student life, and curriculum development.

Miss McCrary holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s in education from Wake Forest University. A proud Demon Deacon, she is willing to support other teams in the ACC if there is a championship title up for grabs. Rumor has it that Miss McCrary knows nothing of spare time so she tends to fill her time outside of school with many things, particularly traveling and trying new restaurants. She has traveled to all but two continents, but has no plans to go to Antarctica for now. Favorite destinations include Venice, Tobago, South Africa, and Cuba.

Read more about the special breakout offerings open only to Middle School students.

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