On Friday, September 23, the Upper School and the Center for Peace, Equity and Justice hosted writer and media professional, Kendra James, for Friends’ first assembly of the academic year.
Kendra James was a founding editor at Shondaland.com where she wrote and edited work for two years. She has been heard and seen on NPR, as well as other podcasts such as “Thirst Aid Kit,” “Three Swings,” “Star Trek: The Pod Directive,” “The Canon,” and “Al Jazeera.” Her writing is widely published in publications such as Elle, Marie Claire, Women’s Health Magazine, Harpers, Catapult and The Toast, among others. Before working in media, Kendra James worked in New York independent schools and Prep for Prep.
The discussion focused on James’ time in high school, where she attended the Taft School—a boarding school located in Connecticut. Her memoir, Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School, is a fresh take on her experience as the first Black Legacy (meaning the child, grandchild or great-grandchild of a graduate of the school). This is an important distinction to James, who chronicled her “racially tinged obstacles” at the school with charm and grace, recalling a time where she and her Black and LatinX peers tried so desperately to call a place home that did not extend the same welcome.
The author walked students through a series of microaggressions she and her Black friends experienced before the term was popularized. From insensitive comments regarding her hair to mistaking her for one of the other three Black girls on campus, James reflects on these events with a combination of humor and exasperation at a segregated system overseen by an administration that ignored heightened tensions.
“There is a snowglobe aspect of being at an independent school” and there is a moment that shakes that snowglobe. For her it was a time that she was falsely accused of stealing $20 from a classmate. A combination of institutional racism, unfair treatment from the Honor Court System and lacking her own personal resources, forced her to falsely claim responsibility. This resulted in her suspension from school.
What did all of this teach her? Find someone to talk to and form a trusted circle of friends before a problem presents itself. And the best revenge? Success, of course.
Following her presentation, James took questions from students regarding gender equality and speaking up in the classroom. She also hosted a lunch discussion and a special affinity space for students who identify as BIPOC.
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