Ten years ago, my family was living in Baku, Azerbaijan, because of my husband’s job as a government contractor. I was working as a teacher and soccer coach at Baku International School. The soccer team was on its way to a match against an elite local soccer club. When we arrived, a security guard boarded the bus, looked around, and asked (in Azeri) who was in charge. My interpreter indicated to the security guard that I was in charge and he informed me my team was not being granted permission to enter the soccer stadium. Through my interpreter, I asked “Why?” The reason given was there were Black people on the bus.
That day, there were five people of color on the bus: my two daughters, two other students, and my assistant coach – a former professional soccer player from Nigeria and a colleague of mine from Baku International School. I was stunned to hear the reason, but immediately became determined that we were going to gain admission to the stadium, we were going to play the soccer match and we were going to win!
I asked to speak to the person in charge and after many heated exchanges (I think my threatening to involve the US Embassy was the game changer), the match was on. We lost the soccer contest, but, on so many levels, we were the winners that day. This was the beginning of my journey to “speak my truth” no matter how difficult or uncomfortable.
“Speaking your truth” means that you stay true to who you are, whether it’s your feelings, opinions, or morals. In other words, not hiding what you feel for the sake of someone’s approval. As I have found many times since the “soccer incident of 2012,” this is not always an easy or popular thing to do.
My family made its way back to Fairfax County in Northern Virginia after a year in Baku. Life was chugging along, and my daughters were once again involved in their post-Baku activities, including lacrosse. At the end of an exciting but grueling season, some of the “lacrosse adults” were not happy with the team’s accomplishments. There were many reasons why the team was not performing to its potential, but ultimately it was decided the coach should be terminated.
I did not agree with the sentiments of these “lacrosse adults,” nor did I agree with the way in which this drama was unfolding. A couple of my concerns were: Why were the adults going behind the coach’s back and was the coach going to have a chance to defend himself against all of the negative things being said about him?
At dinner one evening, our family discussed the lacrosse situation. I mentioned I did not like how the coach was being portrayed or how some of the adults were handling the situation. I let my daughters know I was going to meet with the athletic director to discuss my concerns and speak on behalf of the coach. After a lot of eye-rolling and begging me not to get involved, I was not able to walk away. Instead, I was going to “speak my truth.” I understood why my daughters were asking me not to get involved as their lives would change because of my interference. In our town, an unpopular parent equaled an unpopular child. Invitations to social events would stop and coffee dates with my “friends” would come to a screeching halt. In my heart, I knew that if I did not “speak my truth,” how could I ever expect my daughters to “speak their truths” when it was necessary for them to do so?
How did speaking my truth help the lacrosse coach? I am not sure that it did. He ultimately resigned his position and took a job at another school. We later bumped into each other at a teacher’s conference. We hugged and took a moment to catch up. I will never forget how much he appreciated that I spoke on his behalf even though doing so created an uncomfortable social situation for myself and my family.
With the goal of raising consciousness about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the positive effect these things have in a community, the Quechee DE&I Council reached out to residents in the Town of Hartford through their annual Open House on May 14th.
The DE&I Council created a Gallery Walk and invited the more than 50 participants to share their voices and speak their truth on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This discussion board activity provided a way for folks to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions – either anonymously or by using their names – on a variety of topics.
One of the boards illustrated a picture of three people standing on crates of different sizes outside a ballpark as they peered their heads over the fence. The participants were asked to distinguish between equity and equality. One respondent shared, “People often associate equality with positive attributes. In fact, equality means everyone is handed the same tools without considering their aptitude to use those tools. Equity means providing a variety of tools for all degrees of aptitude to help everyone accomplish the same outcome.” Another participant responded, “Equity is everybody being treated fairly regardless of their circumstances.”
Participants were also “speaking their truth” when they shared their response to the question: Based on what you know, how would you explain privilege and entitlement? One respondent shared, “Privilege is an advantage that you don’t work for, entitlement is the attitude or idea that you deserve what you have even though it is not from hard work.” Another person wrote, “Privilege is the unconscious, unspoken access to tools that facilitate less struggle.”
In addition to the Open House, the Gallery Walk was placed in various areas of the Quechee Club so community members could express their thoughts, background knowledge, and feelings about DE&I topics.
Quechee resident, Vanessa Sternberg “spoke her truth” about the value of diversity, inclusion, and belonging in this way: “If you concentrate on your relationships and interactions on a micro level, you will have ripple effects beyond your community into the greater society.”
The DE&I Council will host future events in the coming months to engage community members with similar topics within the context of “speaking one’s truth.” On Wednesday, September 21, a free virtual community forum will be held called Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the Great Replacement: A lot of shouting and not much understanding. The conversation will be led by Arlene Brock, a lawyer, mediator, and professionally trained human rights and diversity advocate, and Ellen Bettmann, a nationally recognized anti-biased educator. In addition, a four-week educational series and a Quechee Reads book discussion will be offered later this fall. The DE&I Council welcomes all to enhance their knowledge and learn from tangible engagement and real-life moments with one goal in mind: everyone belongs, and everyone is welcome to “speak their truth.”
Donna Starace is a member of The Quechee Club’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council and the Quechee Club. If you’d like information about our committee, please email us at DEI@quecheeclub.com.