Multicultural club, annual retreat help students to live in a diverse world
By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Graduating senior Nabia Evans admits the next phase of her life will be exciting – and a bit scary – but with the help of her school’s multicultural club, she’s more prepared to face the future.
“It’s a little scary to see that I have less than 30 days of high school left and to realize that I will be leaving my parents, younger brother, other family members and close friends. Behind all the fear, I am excited to see what my future has in store for me,” said Evans, a member of Notre Dame High School’s Shades Club.
Evans was among the 80 students of the Lawrenceville school who took part in the recent “Becoming … Becoming Me, Becoming Us, Becoming More!” retreat held in the township’s St. Ann Church. The goal of the retreat was to challenge students to reflect on knowing their true, God-given identity.
Evans, and others like her, said the retreat gave a new perspective on how to approach the future.
Throughout the day, students, the majority of which belong to the school’s Shades Club, along with 10 international students from China and representatives from more than 20 school clubs, heard witness statements and participated in small group discussions and prayer.
A retreat highlight featured a panel discussion that centered on “Becoming Us,” where panelists offered advice to students on how to maintain their identity, culture, race as they prepare to enter college, the workplace beyond, shared personal stories about their upbringings, professional and experiences where they felt called to be true to their own identity.
Panelist Mubarak Lawrence works with the nonprofit Rising Sons, based in Philadelphia, which aims to improve the quality of life for young adults in urban communities. Reflecting on his upbringing, which included having adults in his life who didn’t always make the best decisions, he urged the young people to remember that “in order to change history, we have to learn from history.”
“Know your history, know where you are coming from so that you know where you are going,” he said.
Panelist Dr. Dwayne Proctor, chairman of the board of governors of the NAACP Foundation and senior adviser to the president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, spoke on how the community can help students develop into good, thoughtful leaders “or miss the opportunity to do so because their unique differences are not recognized.”
He said he consistently tries to emphasize students’ potential to become leaders and how important it is for the adults in their lives to be “open to hearing and understanding their perspectives.”
Eileen Marx, Shades Club co-moderator, said understanding different positions is one of the club’s goals.
“In accordance with the Gospel values, we set goals to engage in ongoing dialogue with the faculty and students of Notre Dame,” said Marx, who noted that the club’s ultimate aim is to have students become more involved in student life, share the unique histories, gifts, talents and culture of the students, and to have ongoing weekly club meetings and an annual retreat open to all students in order to foster dialogue about issues such as diversity, inclusivity and justice.
Marx also noted that the Shades Club began in 2015 as the African-American Club. As more students of varying ethnic backgrounds got involved, the name was changed.
Other workshops hosted throughout the day focused on the “Becoming More” theme during which students explored through presentations on African dance, art and cooking.
Senior Shomari Hollis – who, like Evans, is a founding member of the African-American Club before it became Shades – said the retreat helped “opened my eyes to see a brighter future ahead of me.
“With all the help and guidance form my family, teachers, administrators and my Shades family, I feel confident to move on to bigger and better things that are in store for my life,” Hollis said.
Junior Frances Owoh found the retreat inspirational. “We had a chance to listen to adults who have been in our seats, who went through what we as students went through being high school teenagers, and we heard how they have bloomed through the trials and tribulations of life,” Owoh said.
“I loved this retreat because it really did help me to know that I am only me and I can only be me. I have to be confident in myself and with what God has gifted me. I must create my story and embrace it,” Owoh said.