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Alumni Return for BCIL Programming
by Katie McKellar, Assistant Director of the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership 

One of the goals of the BCIL is to bring into the classroom examples of how people are engaging with real world challenges and exploring solutions in their lives outside of Brentwood School. Fortunately, our alumni community is filled with examples of how various interests and professions intersect with our mission statement. This fall, students on both campuses have had the opportunity to interact directly with several of these inspiring individuals through BCIL extracurricular and curricular programming.

On the West Campus, students in 5th Grade participated in a BCIL Speaker Series centered around the topic of Civic Engagement. Lily Richman ’19 spoke about why it is the responsibility of all citizens to participate and engage in their communities.  During the live challenge, students had the chance to advocate for issues they felt passionate about including reducing plastic in the ocean, protecting marine life, and eliminating bias for children who have a disability or differences. Maddy W. ’28 shared her reaction to the event: "I liked listening to Ms. Richman's story about how she followed her passion. I was inspired to start a small Ocean Awareness Club because now I really see how important it is to the world and how my voice matters."

On the East Campus, students in BCIL-designated classes heard from alumni speakers connected to the course curriculum. Raven Morgan ’14 visited The Science of Well-Being to teach mindful breathing. Ms. Morgan is an alumna of Howard University and Los Angeles African American Public Policy Institute, an entrepreneur, and founder of BalanceThankYou. She is also passionate about influencing public policy and interned for Senator Kamala Harris. She describes herself as on a persistent journey towards her life’s purpose: to do what is right and help others. Ms. Morgan shared with the students that consciously using her own breath as a mindfulness tool has impacted her ability to focus and be present. Kaila H. ’22 reflected, “Today we were lucky enough to have Raven join the class and help us all learn more about our breathing, which was an exercise I really enjoyed yet also found challenging. I have done some mindfulness workshops in the past, but nothing specifically like this. I came out of class feeling more relaxed and at ease. I often get migraines and conducting school on zoom tends to heighten this, but during Raven’s breathing exercises I found myself less fatigued.”  

In Latinx in Los Angeles, students heard from Brentwood alumna Monica Medellin ’11. Ms. Medellin is a video producer and director who focuses on stories related to diversity, identity, and social justice.  Students explored videos from her “What are you? Race and the U.S. Census” series along with her “LA Made” series.  In reflecting on the creation of her most recent film “Water Warrior,” Ms. Medellin said: “I knew it was a story I wanted to tell, and I knew that it was an important story.”  She shared with the students that she created this film on a very limited budget and it has now premiered at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, International Ocean Film Festival, Save the Waves Film Festival, and Patagonia Film Festival. Ms. Medellin continued: “I think it is a true testament to the fact that telling your story can change the world, even if you don’t feel like you are ready or you have the resources. I think it is really important to just get it out there and share it, especially if you feel passionate about it.” 

The students in the class really valued hearing Ms. Medellin’s life story and advice on how to approach long-term projects. Willy A. ’21 shared his feedback on the visit: "Monica was amazing! Her story resonated with mine, which made me reflect on my story and the stories of others before me. Also, the energy Monica came in with—as a strong, independent Latina—made me really happy and energetic. Her videos were amazing!" Giulia G. ’21 gained valuable insights about the storytelling process: “In her projects, Monica focused on exploring a breadth of experiences not commonly featured in the mainstream media, challenging the traditional narratives about our city, and inviting us to think critically about that media bias which informs our perception of the world around us. She also emphasized the importance of entering each project from a position of empathy and genuine understanding, allowing each person’s experience to drive the narrative rather than cherry-picking small segments to fit a preconfigured storyline. As she shared insights acquired through her extensive experience, I learned the qualities that make a successful journalist: the ability to listen, the ability to create relationships with a wide variety of storytellers, and the ability to present information with compelling and emotional footage that connects with a variety of audiences.”  

The insights gained from Ms. Medellin’s visit helped inform the semester-long projects of students in this class that address a range of issues relevant to the Latinx community, including the investigation of gentrification on the Eastside of Los Angeles as well as an in-depth analysis of the huge disparities in access to and quality of health services for the Latinx community. Projects will also explore the underrepresentation of the Latinx community in the film industry and the lasting effects of language segregation of ELLs (English language learners, most of them Latinx) in L.A.'s public school system.

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