We welcomed SLAM poet champion and author Elizabeth Acevedo and poet, author, and humanist Christopher Abani to campus on Friday, September 28, for our first forum of the 2018-2019 school year.
Each year Millbrook focuses on a different core value, and respect is this year’s spotlight. Ms. Acevedo and Mr. Abani both shared their perspectives on respect through deeply personal stories and poems.
“These are poems, much of which have never been read in public before,” said Mr. Abani prior to reading multiple poems to the audience. He shared experiences from childhood through his adult life, including memories shared with his brother through his poetry. Mr. Abani talked about respect in the context of masculinity and the problems with how societies define masculinity. He also spoke to the importance of exposure to different people, cultures, and ideas, and how that exposure brings people together and builds mutual respect.
After a boisterous applause, Elizabeth Avecedo took the stage. Ms. Avecedo spent the day on campus visiting with classes, and she began with a moment of reflection: “I know I pushed you today. I brought in a lot of notions of gender, of race, of culture, and of ethnicity. Part of respect is showing up today as my full self.”
She went on to discuss her experiences as a child and as a graduate student, sharing that she was the only “Afro-descent in the entire program,” and explaining how this experience made her realize that part of respect is also one’s willingness to meet somewhere else “where they’re at,” working towards mutual understanding. “Part of respect is how we show up for each other,” she said.
She went on to share a variety of poems, including a poem about rats in New York City that she wrote in defiance of a professor who advised her that “rats are not noble enough for poetry.” Her words were not only creative, deeply meaningful, and personal and her presentation engaging, but they also shed light on how dangerous assumptions can be because they do not support an environment where respect can flourish.
The forum ended with a question-and-answer session and a book signing, and the entire school community was reflective about respect and enthusiastic to continue the conversation Acevedo and Abani had begun. Christopher Abani's sentiments hung tangibly in the air: “Words sung right can save us.”