Three Steps to a Stronger Community

Guest speaker and educator Shanterra McBride was invited to talk to Brooks School students in the Center for the Arts about "community." Yet the Dallas-based life coach admitted right at the start of her hour-long speech to the student body yesterday that she hates the very word.

"Community is one of those words that makes me really uncomfortable," said McBride, comparing the term to others such as "diversity," "colorblind" and "inclusion" as she kicked off her talk. "I actually don't like the word because . . . depending on who says it, that's who gets to define what it is." And depending on who defines it, "that's who holds the power," she added.

"I think one part that we, especially as adults, sometimes miss is that we don't talk about the power of who gets to control the power of the word," McBride explained. "What I want us to focus on, and fix, is who gets the power in this place — because 'community' is going to mean something totally different to me than to you, depending on who has the power."

For the bulk of her speech, she then talked about talking, and encouraged all students to think about their role in their community and take a few steps to making Brooks a positive place for everyone:

Step 1: "Admit you know what power is."

"You all know who has power in this space," McBride told the audience. "You know who actually gets stuff done . . . .You are the students, you are the experts. You know who gets to say one thing and it can change an entire policy." Entreating everyone to consider their place in the Brooks community, McBride assured, "You don't lose anything by admitting, 'Yeah, it's me.' So let's stop all the polite stuff. . . . Let's just admit it, and then that way we can get to some of the good stuff."

Step 2: "Look around and see who is not being heard."

With power, comes responsibility. "The beautiful thing about power, about building a space, is that you get to actually look around and notice who is at the table," she continued. "When you know you have power, you also need to pause and look around and say, 'Wait a minute, who's not here?' and bring in a chair for them."

The onus to make space should not be on those "in the minority position" she said. "We're always expecting those without the power to force their way in instead of saying, 'Wait, everyone at this table looks like me. Hmm, we need you!'" Too often people insist, "If you wanted to come, you should have just showed up," McBride said. "But do you know how exhausting that is? It's exhausting."

Try another way, she urged: "Pause, look around. See who's not there. Invite them. Stop expecting me to always try and make my way in because I'm tired. But you'd better believe when I get there, though, you're going to be glad I was at the table!"

Step 3: "Listen to one another. And listen to understand."

This last step, the presenter declared, is the hardest one. "When I say, 'Listen to understand,' that may actually mean I don't respond right now," she said. "That may mean I was ready for battle but wait, what you said may actually make some kind of sense, so what I thought I was going to fight you on, I really don't need to fight you on."

Segueing to talk about the "Black Lives Matter" and "Blue Lives Matter" movements, McBride asked students to think about "how I can say all lives matter and I can say black lives matter because I am able to have more than one thought. . . . I can do both."

See an album of photos from McBride's visit

"You," she told the students before concluding, "can care about community for you. You can care and make sure that you have the classes that you need and you can say that you want to make sure there are more people at school who look like you. You can say that you care about people being able to sit anywhere they want in this beautiful auditorium and you can also say that you care about making sure we get to have more students from different backgrounds. You can do both. That's community."

"I can be a part of a community, and I can think about what I need, but that doesn't mean I don't think about what you need, too," she said. "'Community' is whatever you define but it should include everyone. Make room at the table. Invite the person to the table and then listen to understand."

After her remarks, McBride said she hoped that students will go forward thinking about the power they have and the kind of influence they can have on Brooks. "Often times students look to the adults to make the decisions," she said. "So I'm hoping that now students here will think, 'Wait, I have power. I have influence in this community. . . . and I can do some really positive things for this place.'"

Her message was heard, students shared afterward, even if not everyone agreed with it.

While Aidan Shea '22 said, "I like how she talked about stuff that we don't usually talk about," and Will Creevy '22 noted, "She talked about the stuff that's tough to talk about and she made it funny. I thought the speech was good. I'm still thinking about it," others reserved their praise for the time being.

"She was a really good speaker, but I don't have the same point of view," said Amantle Madi, an exchange student from the Maru-a-Pula School in Gaborone, Botswana. " . . . I think people will definitely talk about it [more in coming days]."

Anthony Burnett '19, said he doubted that, though. "Obviously it's a relevant issue but I don't think it's going to spark so much debate among high school students," he said. "No one's really going to oppose the thought that all lives matter here."

McBride expected she'd have to spark some back-and-forth, though — which is why she wasn't done on campus after her speech. The speaker spent the afternoon in conversation with students and visiting classes to discuss the thoughts she raised and issues of community on a more intimate level.

"When I go to classrooms, that's when white students get to ask those questions that are usually uncomfortable; that they wanted to say, like, 'I mean, but, what about . . .?' or 'Can you really . . .?' and then we get to have this one-on-one interaction," she said. "Saying it front of everybody? Not so much." In other words, the conversation, the listening, will continue -- and she hopes we'll all be a better community for it.

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