D219 Administration Brings in Bullying Reduction Speaker Calvin Terrell

By Leila Meseljevic, Staff Writer

As a result of the tension surrounding division at Niles West, Niles West High School brought in speaker Calvin Terrell, founder and lead facilitator of the Social Centric Institute, to address racism and bullying. The presentations took place on March 8, 9 and 10 in the Niles West Auditorium, dividing groups by grade. Students had the choice to opt-out of the assembly and attend regularly scheduled classes.

The presentation lasted around three hours, beginning with Terrell introducing his background, which included his own experience dealing with prejudice and other expectations related to his identity.

“When I showed pain and passion as a child, everyone told me to be a man and stop crying. Everyone would be confused as to why I would show happiness because I was expected to only show anger. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about being able to show my emotions,” Terrell said.

Terrell went on to tell the stories of discrimination from the various schools he worked with. One story about his interaction with a student who had joined a hate group resonated with some in the freshman class, who attended the assembly on Tuesday. According to Terrell, he “[held] this kid in my arms because he was explaining to me he does not want to be a part of the neo-nazi group anymore. I held him there for 10 minutes while he was sobbing.”

Freshman Charu Bhardwaj said, “It made me feel kind of sad because it makes me realize how privileged I actually am, and how I haven’t had to go through or witness these things. It makes me realize that we need to help each other because you never know what someone might be going through.”

For the first part of the assembly, Terrell focused on the importance of showing respect to others, but especially to ourselves. He also emphasized that “when you fight hate with fire, you get more fire.”

Another message Terrell expressed is the need to remove white dominance from mainstream culture.

“If we are going to get free of the white dominance, the spectrum of phobias, etc. you have to free yourself of inhumanity and to be brave. It is time to grow up as a human race,” Terrell said.

Terrell went on to inform listeners of the history of America’s most famous landmarks and what they stand for. One of the main focuses was Lady Liberty, who Terrell said represents a slave freeing herself from injustice and oppression throughout history, which is why there are broken chains at the bottom of her feet.

Terrell said, “Bartholdi who created the first model of Lady Liberty had her holding the broken chains in her hands. Yet, American financiers did not approve of this model and made it to where you can barely see the chains. You must go in a helicopter just to see the chains, you will not be able to see them when standing on the ground, looking up.”

According to the Library of Congress, “In the original design, the Statue of Liberty is shown holding in her left hand a broken chain and shackle, which represent freedom newly achieved. Bartholdi later made a major change to his design by placing the chain and shackle, symbolically broken by Liberty, at her feet. He then positioned the familiar tablet, inscribed ‘July IV, MDCCLXXVI’ (July 4, 1776), in her left hand.” The statue was erected and dedicated in 1886.

Another portion of the assembly involved recognizing students with different ethnicities in the room. Terrell invited students of varied backgrounds to stand together while those seated clapped to celebrate the diversity at Niles West. Terrell also asked students to stand up to own the mistakes they have made throughout the years growing up. Students were encouraged to stand and take responsibility for having said something mean or nasty on social media or to someone’s face. Another question asked students to stand if they were prejudiced in any way, even if it was in their head.

Senior Adrien Herrera said, “Following the assembly, I was in awe. There was an overflow of thoughts and feelings that came throughout the assembly, and I sat in those thoughts even hours after the assembly finished.”

Seniors Isabelle Padron and Olivia Benyamin both agreed, saying, “As we all are aware, there have been many recent events that have further divided our school community and the student body. The assembly was very much needed. The message that Mr. Terrell shared was a vital step in fixing our broken environment. As we exited the auditorium, our hearts were full and we finally felt connected to our peers and seen. There was an even stronger passion and drive brewing inside us both because Mr. Terrell’s words, ‘Be better than history,’ pierced our hearts in the best way possible. We hope that everyone’s eyes opened the way that we did, that each day we can all choose to do better and be better for the generations ahead of us, and for the ones that we are living today.”

Terrell also held additional presentations in the Student Commons. Those who attended had the chance to ask questions one-on-one and interact with Terrell.

Senior Sam Philips said, “I definitely did learn a different perspective. I did not agree with 100 percent of what he said, and that’s okay. We can have our disagreements and still be respectful of each other.”

In the Student Commons, Terrell criticized mainstream cultural values and highlighted the issues that he said society ignores.

“We know more about the Kardashians’ breast size and dress size than we know more about what is happening in this world,” Terrell said.

Terrell offered his viewpoint to solve the issues by saying, “We need to run to the problem not away from it. It is like building new muscles, at first it stings, but to get stronger we have to lean into being uncomfortable. If we only do what is comfortable, we never become stronger.”

Many West students who attended the Student Commons breakout session or the auditorium assembly reported feeling strong emotions afterward.

Freshman Maia Clair said, “Terrell engaged the audience, and really made me and the students feel the emotions he was trying to send out. He also wanted to put across the understanding of what is going on in our school and the world today.”