Minority students at Covenant Day School are celebrating their cultural differences

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Covenant Day is a TK-12 school where our students thrive in an educational environment built on academic excellence and infused with a biblical worldview. Located in Matthews, NC, Covenant Day provides an authentic and holistic Christian education that fosters lifelong learning, critical thinkers, and problem solvers who actively engage in the world as ambassadors for Christ.

For some students at Covenant Day School, being a Christian goes hand in hand with embracing diversity. That’s where the student-run club Unite comes in. 

In 2020, a small group of students who wanted to find new ways to celebrate Black History Month on campus quickly became Unite, a club of about 15 high school students who try to bring awareness to the contributions and issues that affect people of color. Made up of both students of color and white students, Unite’s goal is to find ways to make students feel welcome by facilitating conversations about race and difference through a newsletter, cultural displays around campus, and more. 

“It’s a place for [students of color] to really showcase themselves and who they are and educate the rest of the student population,” Dr. Rebeca Burnett, one of Unite’s faculty advisors, said. “We talk about how stories are really strong and that if you know someone’s story, you’re less likely to discriminate when you know who they are, where they’ve come from, what their dreams are. And that’s what the kids are doing.”

Aside from conversations, the students also use art to celebrate cultural differences. During Black History Month 2021, the students changed the class dismissal music to popular songs by Black artists like Stevie Wonder and James Brown. To celebrate Arab and Middle Eastern students and start conversations, an Arab student led and created a campus photography exhibit from their travels.

“The name itself comes from unity, and that unity is in Christ,” Burnett, who also served as the campus’ cross-cultural coordinator and high school Spanish teacher since 2019, said. “So knowing that it doesn’t really matter if you’re Black, white, brown, whatever your background is, they are united in Christ.” 

Burnett has a background in bridging cultural gaps. Her doctorate degree is in intercultural education and she spent years working with international students and programs at the college level. Coming from doing intercultural work at the collegiate level, she saw the opportunity Unite could fill on campus. 

“We really wanted to hear from the students about their experience, not just our minority students, but also our majority students,” she said. “We realized we needed to start a club where our minority students could come and talk with each other about their experience and educate the student body with special events and special forums.” 

Omari Hill, the high school chaplain, Bible teacher, and co-advisor of Unite, believes many of the students see the club as a method of “making their faith more real.”

“Their faith has played a huge part in it. They look at humanity and say, ‘you know, we have a God in common,’ so they’ve been motivated to sort of ‘make their faith more real, as it were.” 

Hill, a Black man born and raised in the Bronx, was drawn to be involved with Unite both because of his background and his role as chaplain. 

“As a mentor, teacher, and adult around students, it was something that resonated with my own heart because I have also experienced and have been in the shoes of a lot of these students,” he said. “When I was in high school, I went to a private high school where there weren’t many Black students, so I benefited from people who went a little bit of an extra mile to make sure that Black students felt included. To be able to help students to do that, and experience maybe even a greater level of what I experienced when I was in high school is definitely a privilege.”

Unite, as a concept, had been thought of and discussed among the students for a while, but it never came to fruition. But in 2020, George Floyd’s murder created a more pronounced sense of urgency among the students and faculty, Hill said, in addition to the rise of Covid-19 and the rise of division that came from it.

The students continued to create conversations with Unite in 2020 and 2021, but with upperclassmen graduating, Covid disruptions, and some burnout with both students and faculty, the organization took a bit of a backseat to other priorities. Now, Hill and Burnett are hoping to get Unite back to work for 2022 and beyond.

“We’d love to see them continue to facilitate student-led discussions and cultural experiences around issues that are relevant to the group’s mission,” Hill said. 

Ideally, Hill would want to see the students of Unite curate resources that would reach the broader school community and grow. 

“I would love to see them just being able to support one another, especially when they feel discouraged or maybe experienced a micro-aggression or something of that nature and just feel like they’re getting peer support.”

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