Sandy Spring Friends School



Gnu Stories Podcast | Episode 7: Civic Engagement from a Student Perspective

Gnu Stories Podcast | Episode 7: Civic Engagement from a Student Perspective

LISTEN: Join Rodney as he invites our SSFS students to reflect on the 2020 election, what it has meant to them and their classmates, and the role of social media in civic engagement. Further, the group discusses how we, as citizens and community members, resolve conflict and how we all work together to make our school, our country, and our world a better place.




civic engagement, election, community, social media, vote, school, conversation, identity, TikTok, activism, voice,


Lilly, Announcer, Kwame, Gus, Rodney, Irene


Announcer: Welcome to the new stories podcast, Episode Seven civic engagement from a student perspective. In this episode, Dr. Rodney Glasgow head of Sandy Springs school invites for Sandy spring friend school students to reflect on the 2020 election, what it has meant to them and their fellow classmates, and the role of social media for civic engagement. The group also discusses how we, as citizens and community members, resolve conflict and how we all work together to make our school, our country, and our world a better place.

Rodney: All right, well, I'm super excited because y'all are the first students on our podcast and definitely not the last, but it's good to have you all here and to see you all, and for the sake of our audience, if you will start by introducing yourself, your grade, and how long you've been at Sandy Spring Friends School,  that will kind of get us started. We'll start with Irene.

Irene: Sure. Thank you, Rodney. My name is Irene Denniston. I can tell you [I use] she/her pronouns. I am a senior currently and I have been at Sandy Spring Friends School since I was in preschool So this is my 14th and final year at this school.

Rodney:Sad on the final year piece...Lilly?

Lilly: Hi, I'm Lilly Caldwell, I use she/her pronouns. I am a junior, and this is my first year at Sandy Spring.

Rodney: and Gus.

Gus: Yes, thank you, Rodney. My name is Gus, I use he/him pronouns. I am a junior, and this would be my sixth year here at SSFS. I've been here since I was in sixth grade.

Rodney: And Kwame.

Kwame: Hi, I'm Kwame. I use he/him pronouns. And this is my third and final year at SSFS.

Rodney: Awesome. Well, shoutout to the seniors on the call, especially. So this podcast is called civic engagement from a student perspective. So let's do a little bit of a pop quiz slash education for our audience--when you hear the term civic engagement, what are we talking about? What does that mean to you?

Kwame: Civic engagement brings to mind social outreach in either any form, let's say, aiding and getting the word out about the cause you're passionate about, or bring[ing] awareness to things that speak to you and move you.

Lilly: Yeah, for me, whenever I hear the term civic engagement, I think about community and identity and being involved to make a better change, and to continue to promote an atmosphere of diversity, and equity, and inclusion, and really an environment where each and every person is respected, their opinions on how society needs to grow and is doing well should be heard. And I think that that's really what to me to find civic engagement.

Rodney: Awesome...That's exactly it, right? It is noticing social ills and the need for social change around causes that you're passionate about, whether they are in your school, in your home locally, regionally, nationally, globally--and how you work together to raise awareness and make change. And of course, we can't have this conversation, especially right now, without thinking about elections 2020-- that somehow is over and still going at the same time. What are your thoughts on the election from a youth perspective? And how it also played out in our school environment? What did you notice? And what are you feeling about election 2020?

Irene: One the biggest frustrations I felt was just simply being 17 years old, and not being able to vote, because in this election, in particular, I felt like I really wanted to vote and I wanted to participate. But also just in general, I feel like that's one of the most promoted ways for American citizens to engage politically, is to go out and vote. And so as a 17 year old, it was kind of hard to figure out what I was supposed to do. But I really did notice that talking to people and just getting the energy going on social media, especially where people started talking about the election a lot. It meant that you got more people over 18 engaged and the people who could vote felt compelled to vote. I would say definitely in the school, it was interesting leading up... I'm in AP comparative government (CoGo) right now. And that's really the class mainly where we talked about it because that class is all about elections, and where power comes from, and regime change, and government change, and all of that. Even though the United States is not one of the countries that is part of the curriculum in CoGo, we still talked about it a lot as a way to sort of like understand some of these concepts as applied to the United States. And also because it was interesting to analyze what's going on in the United States, really, we've been talking a lot about this political situation for the whole year, but especially right sort of the week of the election, we had homework specifically on like studying peaceful transition of power and what that means, and analyzing past-transitions of power between different American presidents and how that's gone. What administration shifted well, so I really felt like going in at least from that class--which is taught by Kathy Hanna...I really felt like I understood stood a lot more about how the election actually works and what it actually means than I had in years prior.


Gus: In addition to that, as well, even though me being 17... can't vote, I think it's still good to have the opportunity to just get your thoughts off your chest and have someone to talk to... There was one day at school, it was the day after the election--voting day, that is-- where they dedicated it to just having the space and the time to talk amongst your peers. About what you're thinking about, and the thoughts on your mind. ...I appreciate that because even though we can't vote, we can still voice our opinion. And we can still talk to people and get our thoughts out there. And I'm in US history, and we're learning about the US government. And it was, for a whole week before the voting time, we spent a lot of time talking about how the election works, talking about the different parties. And I think that was very engaging discussion.


Kwame: Personally, I think I can also share in the feeling of --I don't want to say powerless--because we always have a voice in every situation, we're all given a voice and election is one of the ways that you see that every vote matters, even when the people in power make you feel as a person, that you're not a member of this space. These are the moments in which we are able to take that authority back. And the one thing that bothers me about this election is I was six days away from legally being allowed to vote. So I kept on thinking should I start a petition to have election day moved so that more kids could vote. But I was very, very proud of especially our generation because people use apps like TikTok--TikTok really did a lot for this election. I don't think other age groups can really see the influence that TikTok had on this election, at least from Gen Z, and maybe millennials, because so many kids were out there posting, "I can't vote. So use your voice for me." We've had a peculiar for years, let me put it that way. And we want the next four, and the next hundred or whatever,  not to be a reflection of this, but to show the power every voice holds--that we all banded together as Americans, as people who live in this country, and made a change. So I think we should all be proud regardless of our age, because so many people use their voice how they should.


Lilly: Wow, okay, Hearing Kwame speak, I don't know how I'm gonna add on to that. But I just wanted to say how I was feeling around the election time, especially as a queer 16 year old who cannot vote, I was terrified because this election, I guess similar to 2016, felt very different from anything I had experienced before. I'm not sure if it was age, or just how the polarization in our country has grown. But this election had people's identities on the front line, it had people's rights to exist, and people's rights to get married, and for health care and the planet, climate justice, all on the line, based on one day out of 365 days where millions of people could vote or millions of people could choose not to vote. And to me, I was terrified to know that my rights, and many people I know and many people don't know, their rights. We're all on the line in this election. And I know elections don't determine everything. But it determines the course and the ability to do something. And that's what I saw as being terrifying when it was coming election time. I, to be honest, is pretty pessimistic instead of my usual optimism.


Rodney: I so appreciate this discussion... and so many places, I want to take it. The one way I want to go right now is Kwame, you mentioned TikTok as being so critical to the election. I think I really mentioned social media as a way of getting your voice out as a young person. And while I look 25 I don't consider myself a young person anymore. And so thinking about how social media plays into youth activism and hearing people say, well, that's what we would call boutique activism, or performative activism. And so where does social media [reside] in what my generation would consider activism, we would go out in March, and go out and stand in the place, help us understand from a youth perspective [what role] social media plays in activism.


Kwame: This whole conversation reminds me of an episode of Blackish, where Dre was talking with his son, Junior, about how his generation felt like they were on the front lines. But I also like how in that situation, Junior, which is closer to our age, also expressed that this is our version of being on the front lines, especially through a pandemic. I always bring this back to let's look at how many movements caught traction during this time in the pandemic. That's because people are at homes, people are looking at their phones, they're forced to see what is essentially put out into the world. And we, as I said before, we don't always have the privilege of being able to go to the polls and going all around. And when we use social media because everybody has their own magazine on social media. Let's take it like that. Each and every one of us have our own publication where we get to show the world our identity in several ways. How many of us used social media even with the black squares and even with going to the polls, everybody votes, stickers and vote vote vote, it really gets into people's heads like, Oh, wait, I know, like I said, I wouldn't vote but woah, this is an actual election, I could actually have the next four years of my life changed by just who I tick on the ballot or just even not going. The fact that so many of us were able to use the same platform that we shared dance videos to... move  political change, I feel like that's just incredible. And it has to be seen as not boutique activism [but] just activism in the new day.


Lilly:Yeah, I was actually talking to somebody about this earlier this year, and about how also social media and activism play together on the point of accessibility, safety, and inclusion, because there are people all over the United States who don't have the opportunities to go out and march, who don't have the opportunities to go to protests, because they may be in an unsafe environment, they may just not have that accessibility. And I think social media really plays into that big reaches every corner, it reaches every dot and dot you didn't think you would be able to get to. And also, as an activist who's worked with many organizations, I have found that I have made so many new connections over social media, I now know activists from California, and Washington, and Texas, and Pennsylvania, and Maryland. And without social media, I would probably only know activists from the area that I'm surrounded by. Also, even if it is just me sharing a post or DMing somebody being like, "Hey, you should check this out." It's the fact that it's showing more and more people are getting involved. And more and more people are showing interest, people who I never realized felt so passionate about certain issues, and giving that accessibility.


Irene: One thing Rodney, and you mentioned specifically like performative activism, he also called it boutique activism. And that's something I actually think has really been cracked down on, especially in the past few months, because it did kind of feel like some people were using--rather than sharing information and really being passionate--they were using the guise of activism just really as a way to get clout. And that was a big problem, i think, with some... popular creators [on TikTok], they would post like a black screen for the blackout for Black Lives Matter, but they would share no resources and they would have no discussions and they would listen to no black creators, so it really didn't feel like it was sincere. And that's a big thing. Because I think sincerity on the internet is really hard to gauge. It's really hard to tell what people's motivations are. But I do think that's something actually that is being worked on a lot. And people are really trying to encourage people to actually participate in sharing useful information. One thing that almost I would say I've worried about is I forget sometimes how young so many people on TikTok are and even then... it poses some dangers, like these are 13 year olds who are being told that their generation is like brand new, like this revolutionary generation. And they're new to social media, they're new to feeling like they have a voice, too.  And so they're so impressionable.

And misinformation is so easy to spread, it scares me how many times I've seen a TikTok that has blatantly wrong information in it, or the information they're sharing is an anti semitic propaganda or something. And these people don't know where the information comes from. And then they're sharing it with again, super impressionable kids. I feel like fact, checking even or just like analyzing where the data comes from is really important. Because I mean, as people stated, already, social media is such a powerful weapon when wielded the right way. But you really got to know what you're doing with it. And so that's where I think we've established just in the past few months, especially with the election that like when you get the wave going, and you get activism going on the internet, especially on TikTok right now, it's incredibly impactful. So now we need to make sure that we don't direct that energy in the wrong place. You know, we take a few steps back sometimes and analyze, do I know where this information is coming from? Is this true activism? Or am I just doing this, so my friends won't cancel me, or stuff like that?

Gus: You know, the thing with social media is that it literally connects everyone in a way that was unimaginable before. If you were to go out and protest, the only way people would know about you is if a local news station came out and recorded you a lot of story about your protest. That's how the word would get out. Now, all I have to do is post a couple of sentences, and anyone on the internet can see it, which like you said, Irene, can be used for good and bad, because what's to stop me from saying something blatantly wrong or, you know, incorrect. Which is why when you're on social media, I find it's important to take it upon yourself to fact check the stuff you see... If you see something that you've never seen before, you got to ask yourself, hmm, Is this true? And you know, you can delve into it and take that moment to think about it and go deeper. But also, like you said, there's a lot of young kids out there who don't know that. And I think educating people on the proper use of social media and always be questioning things is a key part of an institution. And you know, you just got to be careful with what you do on the internet nowadays. What you see and what you read... even with social media?

Rodney: Absolutely. I mean, y'all are speaking so well as social media literacy, right? Knowing how to use the platform, knowing how to discern the information. Is it a good source? Is that a correct source? And knowing the power of your voice to amplify, you all are part of a generation whose voices can amplify so quickly as Gus was saying, in a way that previous generations could not. What it would take for you to reach millions of people with a click is unheard of [for past generations]. And so I'm so glad to hear y'all talking about this. I want to go to something now that Lilly had said earlier about identities being on the ballot and issues that are important to the life and sustainability of our planet, and the people on it, being on the ballot. And when we looked at the election results, even as they continue to come in, they're very close to 50/50. And given the polarity of the issues and the polarity of these two candidates, what we're seeing is a country divided. How do you at school in your life, right in your home? How do you reach across the divide? And the polarities that we're seeing? And where do they even show up at school? And how are we practicing what we want to see out in the world around people having very different opinions, and still being able to work through?

Irene: One thing I can say real quick is that my family and myself consider ourselves very left leaning. And we have some pretty immediate family members who are very, very conservative, and many of them I am hundred percent positive voted for Donald Trump, when my family very much did not. And so it's been hard, especially on my older family members, where like they grew up with these people, like these are people that raise them, these are people that they love. And right now, my parents are asking themselves, like, how am I going to talk to my mom right now? Like, what are we going to talk about? We can't just like ignore this, what's going to happen? Where do we go from here in our relationship? And so I think that's just been a big open question, do we want to change their minds? Do we want to have discussions with them? I do feel like I want to talk to some of my younger relatives who have different opinions than I do, because I think I could actually learn a lot about their experiences from talking to them. And both of us are young, and we have time to change our opinions. And that's what being young is all about, [It's] about figuring out who you are. So we could both come out of that conversation that could be very productive when we could both learn new things about ourselves and about each other. So on that level, at least, I do feel like it would be more beneficial for me, even, to like reach out to some of my younger conservative relatives, and just talk about our differences of opinion. But that leads into... I see a lot of times people talking about what constitutes an opinion and what's a completely different moral standpoint. And I definitely think that comes into play at the school. Because we've talked a lot about diversity of thought at Sandy Spring Friends School, and how to approach how can we include diversity of thought into our tolerant community.

And one thing that I've really started to think is that when you have a tolerant community, that means that no one in that community can disrespect the identity of someone else. So you can have different opinions from someone and you can think some different things. But as long as it's not an attack on any other members of the community, then it respects that guideline of tolerance. However, if you have someone who attacks another member of the community, or an identity in the community, if you have someone who says, you know, "I don't think that you should identify how you do," or "I don't think that you are smarter as I am" or something like that, then that person by having that adversarial view on another person, that person has forfeited their space in the tolerant community because they have broken the cycle of tolerance, it's not a difference of opinion, then it is an attack on another member of the community. And therefore that opinion, if it's still an opinion, even can't really be tolerated, because the idea there is that you are allowed to think what you want to think as long as you're not hurting someone in the community, your opinion can be I don't agree on how to solve this problem. But your opinion can't be you shouldn't exist that does not fit within the guidelines of a tolerant community.


Rodney: Thank you for that, Irene. You know, I was in my mind, as a diversity practitioner and Head of School, I try to push us beyond tolerance to like acceptance and inclusion and belonging, but the way you've just explained that really taught me the value of that word tolerance as the baseline. You have to at least do that if you're not going to do that, then you can't be with us. I appreciate the way you language that.


Kwame: I think at this time when it comes to reaching across because we spoke about how we are in a time where we feel divided as a country. But I feel going back to what Rodney said, this is a good place to be this is a good place to start... because now everybody can reach out and there's going to be someone on the other end. When we speak about a tolerant community, and when you relate that to like political affiliation, I feel like sometimes we're quick to [dismiss] different leaning from us. And then we just assume all these things. Put all these presets into our mind, "oh so they probably think this way about things like the equality and race and gender." We put so many presets on [people who lean differently politically]. But then I like what are being said about going back to talk to younger people who are still affiliated with these groups. They don't necessarily have the same mindsets of their own . Because even within a tolerant community, we see that there is variance on top and several issues. Yes, we're a community where we don't invalidate each other's experience. But that doesn't mean we believe the same things.

And I feel like it's okay for us to embrace difference of thought, rather than just close it off to being, "Oh, you're negative".. because I always say, there's always a time for education, we're never going to solve any of the issues we have if we keep on pushing people away, and keep on closing the door. I feel like so many times, we're afraid to have difficult conversations. So it's easier to just be like, "Oh, this person is always going to think like this, you're always going to do this, you're always going to do that." If I ask any of you here, are you the same person on the beginning of the pandemic? And are you the same person now? Most likely, you're going to tell me I'm slightly different. I've learned this about myself, I've learned that about myself. Change comes from conversations from stresses-- there's good stress, and there's bad stress--and from opening your environment to new factors. I think as a community, we also have to be open to bridging that gap, and finding effective ways to look at and say, "Hey, I know you lean this way, I lean this way. But I know we think the same on this. So let's come together and find a way to spread this message, not spread it for Democrats not spread for Republicans spread the message." Because sometimes we're always trying to have two different forms of the same issue,



Kind of going off of what Kwame said is it's really it's so much of it is about education. Because I feel that, you know, our nation, especially now, it's described as a person being a conservative or being born being a liberal...or being born any other party, but in reality, it's all about the education, and the community that surrounded them as they were growing up. And when it comes to polarization and civic engagement and bridging divides, I think it's really all about what we can bring into schools, because schools are places where not everyone likes to be all the time. But they are a place where we have to be at some point. And they are a place where we find our communities and we find our place to be and we grow as human beings, and a part of that growth across the United States, identity and equity are left out of that narrative. And they're thrown in occasionally. But I think that really diversity, equity, and civic engagement needs to be at the forefront of education, because a lot of people say, "Oh, that's too political, we shouldn't get those things involved in schools. School is about just learning" but, part of learning is how we communicate with each other. It's how we connect as communities, how we see each other, how we respect each other's identities, and that thought in that teaching [is] that we need to see each other's differences, because from our differences creates unity. We can't just say, "Oh, this person, they love whoever they love. But we all have the same thing on the inside," or "Oh, I don't see color," things like that, when reality, we need to see people's sexualities, we need to see people's identities, because that's what makes us unique. That's what connects us as human beings is recognizing our differences. And we recognize our differences to then bring those together to create a place of unity, compassion, empathy, and really a school community that connects like wires. Because you can't just have to have the same wires thinking that they're all the same and try and connect them that's not going to create a powerhouse, you need the wires of different colors, right? Of like the red wire and the blue wire and the yellow wire. Because when we connect those all what happens is we gain that power.

Gus: It's one thing to disagree on our property taxes should work. But it's a whole other thing to disagree on the rights of someone purely based on how they identify. So I think it's important to pick your battles. At what point is like, "okay, we can agree to disagree," or at what point though you like "I want to have a conversation about that, let's talk." Because I feel like you should have the freedom to think what you want, as long as you don't impact the liberty and the well being of other people. And if everybody were Quaker, I like to think then there would be a lot less problems or we'd be on a better path to world peace. But I think even a step below that. And step below becoming Quaker is just respect if you go somewhere and you just have the inherent respect of somebody, even if they have a different opinion, even if you disagree with them, but you have generic respect for them, and you're open to have a conversation and just discuss with them, I feel like that in itself would help build a stronger and tight knit community. And, you know, similar to what we've been saying, people can change their minds. So you might walk in one day with this strong belief, but as you learn more, as you have these discussions with other people, you changed your mind and you grow, and you become a better human, and I think that's just part of life, and a part of school. You know, I don't know a better place than school for engagements. You know, after school after college, you just go to work. But in school, I think is the number one place, dare I say, where there's the most engaged between people.


Kwame: Going off what Gus said about being Quaker and everything, and what Lily said about seeing everyone, I think that was a very excellent statement. Because so many times we like to cut off the conversation and be like, don't get into that "Black thing", because you don't want it to be seen as Oh, you're always talking about race... you're seeing through color. One of the things I don't particularly like to hear is "I don't see color," because then I'm like, "then you don't see me." Because as a Black man, there are certain things that affect me, that don't affect you. And if you can see that, and are able to navigate that space with me, because I am constantly having to navigate my space with you, it's insulting, it's hurtful--you're not seeing me, and you're not seeing my experience. And that's one of the benefits. I also think about being an SSFS. I like to call it the "Springer- effect." When you come to SSFS, you might not always see that you've changed. But you've come in a way that you're more open to the world, you see the world in a more dynamic lens, because you wouldn't always realize it, but your family realizes it.

And I always have this conversation with so many friends, especially being on dorm and talking to so many people who are international, we always come with certain presets. And by the time we all leave, we're like I know I've changed because my family always tells me "Oh, you think so differently. Now you think so broad." And I'm just like it's the SPICES, because in a way they ensure that everybody's heard everybody seen and essentially everything's taken care of. Because, stewardship. stewardship goes beyond just taking care of the earth, taking care of your community, feeding the people around you with your good energy, because one bad seed does spoil the entire bunch. Because it has an effect, we all leave a mark on each other no matter how miniscule we all are able to indeed impact each other


Irene: One thing I've really taken away from education at SSFS, actually on this topic, specifically talking about tolerance of different opinions, and what constitutes an opinion was way back, I don't know why I remember this. But way back when I think I was in kindergarten, one lesson we were taught by the kindergarten teacher was if someone says something mean to you, you can tell them what you said was mean. But you don't have to say you are a mean perso. You can say, you know, you made this mistake, but not like this is who you are. And so I think I've been thinking about that, it probably just has been on my subconscious, because definitely one of the big issues that comes up is like what actually makes a person intolerant? How many mistakes do you have to make before you are your beliefs, you know, because everyone slips up sometimes. And everyone says things sometimes that you wish you hadn't, or that hurt someone and you don't realize it was gonna hurt them. So like, that happens to everyone sometimes. You can't always hold one issue against someone, if they've done good things, you know, the rest of time. I think that ties into what some people were saying earlier, which is that there's always an opportunity for education, and that you can say like, "Hey, you know, I don't know if you meant what you said this way, but it came across this way. And that actually hurts some people the way you said it," then a lot of times you will probably get a response. It's like, "Oh, I'm so sorry, you know, I didn't realize that this was hurtful for me to say that, I won't do it again." And then that person has learned from the experience, and they've grown, and you've both grown and the community has actually been made better.

One problem that I see a lot is that someone will make a mistake, and then they will be pushed out completely for that mistake, or they'll be shunned. And then that actually makes their views more extreme, that makes them band together with other people who have also been pushed out and go, "Oh, my God, you know, this whole group of people is evil, and they hate us. And we are being put down for our opinions." And so that's where I think a lot of radicalization comes from really is just that immediate response to just push people out. And I think you can protect vulnerable members of the community, while still educating those who may have done something harmful. And I think we would have a lot less political extremes that can be really harmful and really dangerous if we were more open to education. And if we really understood that, you know, you can catch someone's behaviors early on. And you can actually talk to people and reason about their mindset. Because at the end of the day, you probably are a lot more similar than you think you are, and extremist views don't happen overnight. It's [an] accumulation of little tiny micro-aggressions that build up and then don't get addressed. So it's like put the fire out while it's small, don't wait for the whole forest to light up.


Rodney: And I am so speechless by what you all are saying, in that you just taught a whole history and sociology and ethics lesson. And it was so powerful to watch in terms of highlighting the fact that in order to see me, you have to see all of me and all of my identities--right? Highlighting the fact that "you can't invalidate my experience" and highlighting the fact that "and if I feel so invalidated, I'm going to find other folks who will validate me right and that's going to fuel this negativity." I mean that that's all a referendum on how we got where we are right now, today in this country. Thank you for that for thought and that depth of thought. Two more questions for you as we wrap up this conversation, and one is I'm inspired by the way you all are looking at things from all these different angles this afternoon. And so it makes me ask you a question I don't think I've ever asked anybody. What have you learned from watching President Trump? What has he, and the way he leads, taught you?


Lilly: I'd say what it has taught me is that we get nowhere when we lead on fear, when we lead on fear, and hate, and mocking--and I'm not talking about political party wise identity, I'm talking about behavior--in a way when we run on that sense of hate, we are enabling polarization, we are enabling this divide, this ability that some people have to deem whether or not somebody is human. And what it's really taught me is that we get nowhere with hate, we get absolutely nowhere with mockery, or telling people that they don't belong, we don't get anywhere from deciding that just because we are unfamiliar with something that it automatically means it's wrong, that somebody's appearance and somebody's way of characterizing themselves in their voice and their movements is not something that we can just laugh at and make fun of, it's instead something that we need to understand, and something that we need to acknowledge. We cannot... run on hate. And I always think back to this Suzanne Collins quote when I reflect on these past four years, and it's from Hunger Games, she has one of the characters give the quote, "hope is the only thing stronger than fear." And I really associate that with these past four years is hope is the only thing stronger than hate, hope is the only thing stronger than these past four years. And I think that's really what these years have taught me is I need to go out, and I really need to check-in with my community, I need to check in with people I don't know. And I need to really realize that this has been an issue since the founding of the United States. But it was brought to the spotlight in these past four years, and has taught me that we always need to be looking out for each other. And we always need to be involved in civic engagement, because that's how we build a community on hope not hate.


Kwame: I think President Trump as a leader has taught me a couple of lessons. I like the quote [Lilly] used about hope is only thing stronger than hate. But truthfully, I personally believe it's love. Because if you don't have love for your fellow man--which I don't believe President Trump had love for all citizens, I feel like he had love for a select group and him coming into power really spoke to the fact that there is an elitist class within the United States. And it's something that we have to confront, because for four years, several millions of people, hundreds of people could not feel wanted in a country where their families have been here for generations, some longer than his. And he could tell them, they're not American, when their ancestors are buried within the soil he walks on. He has taught me that, firstly, everybody must be held accountable for their actions. We all do things. And sometimes you think, "Oh, it's not gonna matter in two years," just always be thinking, what will happen tomorrow? If I do this? am I hurting someone? am I hurting myself? If the answer to either or both is yes, take some time to reflect. Make sure that every action you do is intentional. And I'm very grateful for the time we actually been spent under him, not for all the other things, but for the lessons he has instilled in each and every one of us.


Irene: I hope there are lessons we learned as a country in these past four years, and mistakes we made that we will try very hard not to make again. I think this was a good example, Kwame mentioned a little like the fact that there are very powerful people in the United States who do have a lot more influence than the average citizen does. And so even when someone doesn't have the support of the people, they can still hold power in the United States. It's really, I think, important to examine how our democracy works here. I know the Electoral College has been under fire for years now. But that, especially with a huge deal in 2016, was people talking, you know, land doesn't vote, people vote. And so I think we really as a country are going to need to reevaluate what our democracy actually looks like. Is it equal? Do we actually have a system where every single person's political opinion and views matter, where everyone has a say in what impacts their daily life? ...One thing I've seen people talk about a lot with the election part now is they were shocked by how close it was in the popular vote. They said, You know, I thought that maybe percentage would be very different. And I think that goes to show in a way that we still don't quite understand how divided the country is. And so that's another mistake I think we're going to try to fix is you really need to not just pay attention to what's going on within your own political affiliation or your own party, because you're going to miss out on what the actual [sense] of the country is. You're not going to know what's going on if you isolate yourself that way. So I do think that's something that, maybe going forward we will be better at, is paying attention to what the other side's thinking or paying attention to what is actually going on in the country and listening to different viewpoints. Because that's really how you can know what will make the most impactful changes, actually knowing what your fellow American citizens are thinking. Because at the end of the day, both of you have a voice politically, and so if you're really using it, you need to know what the other person is saying. You know,


Gus:  I think often people think of democracy. And they think, Oh, you know, you're the government. we often forget that also, your neighbor is the government, your friend is the government, your teacher, you me, we have to definitely take that into account. Sure. Democracy is governance by the people. That's everybody from the rich person, poor person, average, everybody. It's important to realize that there are lots of people out there with completely radical ideas opposite to you. But at the end of the day, a decision must be made. So I think respect, again, is important here for even though what you want to see happen doesn't come true, you should be able to say I understand my candadite loss--you can still be upset at it-- but you must accept the circumstance at hand. And I think that that is something that over time, we as Americans have lost sight of that, we have gone down the path of, "it's either my way or the highway." I think that it's still important to remember that regardless of what happens, it happens. And it's important to be able to move past it.


Lilly: I was gonna say another thing that I've been taught these past four years by the Trump administration is that it is our civic duty to call our authority, it is our civic duty to be like, "Hey, this is not okay." We have to accept that, for example, Trump won the election in 2016, or Biden is projected to win the election this year. But from that, we also need to realize that as people, we have that power to call them out, we have the power to be like, this is not okay. And I think often in civic engagement, it's taught that it's the people who are always the ones needing to listen to the people who are always the ones needing the change. But it's also the people who are in power. And it's the people in power, who really need to acknowledge that maybe what I'm doing is not okay, maybe what I'm doing has hurt people. And maybe what I'm doing is more about me than the people. So it's not just about the power of the people, which is the biggest part-- because the power of the people is stronger than the people in power-- but it's also the people in power realizing that. And realizing that the reason they are in power is because of the people.


Iren: Another thing I hope we can move past is idolizing politicians and placing politicians in a place where they have your unconditional support.


Gus: I mean they're humans too, you know?


Irene: Yeah. And the way that politics work a lot of times is that these people aren't always doing what they think is morally correct. They're doing what will move things forward politically. And so I think it's really important to not view politicians really as like a celebrity or like your favorite person, it's important to really think about their policies and think, do I support this action they've just taken. Because you know, if you take it too far, and you care only about their image as a person... that becomes a cult of personality. And that's really dangerous. I think, really, what's important is to look at your politicians and choose who you are going to vote for, and who you are going to place your support in that moment for, based on what you agree with, whether you think what their action is in that moment is something that represents you. And then you should be willing to change your mind on that person or not support their next action if it doesn't agree. And that goes even for entire political parties as well. You should never feel bound to one ideology, or one party or one person. Just because you were the last time you can, you can support what you want to support in the moment. And you should never unconditionally, just place all of your bets on one party or one person, especially when the issues are so serious, because you could end up supporting something that you personally really don't agree with. Or, you know, a person can get away with doing horrible, atrocious things just because they've made their image so powerful. So I really think that's something that moving forward we should work on, is seeing politics as politics and not as personality, and not as your personal affiliation. Just choose what you think is right in the moment and stick with what you think is right. Stick with your morals, not a person or party.

Gus: Yeah, you know, it's not set in stone. So just because you identify yourself as a Democrat, you blindly follow the Democratic politicians. I think it's important to think about it like Play-doh, for example, you have to first know what you want to make-- your morals, your personal beliefs-- and shape it to what you want, and then go out there and find the best fit for the mold that you made. And sometimes it changes. So I think that's important.

Rodney:  Well, so good, man, I just feel like I need to go in journal and and listen back to this podcast,  my own self. But I was here for it. As we wrap up my final question for you, based on this whole conversation and civic engagement and our school's motto of Let Your Lives Speak, what would you say is your cause right now? What are you speaking out about? For me, as some of y'all may know, it's this equity in discipline, and I'm speaking about it at our school. And I'm encouraging schools across the nation to look at the discipline process, and the way that race, class, and gender can get caught up in that process. And because to me, that's like an extension of the justice system. And so that's the cause I'm speaking out about, what about you?

Gus: Well, for me, personally... this year one of my goals, actually on torches to create a safer, better environment to discuss mental health and mental concerns-- create an open environment, judgment free, and just a more comfortable zone as a school to be in, especially not in a virtual. You know, when we're in person, you often are walking around on campus, and you have small talk conversation with the Head of School--not every school has the ability to do that. And I think that's really special about the school. And I'm just looking for, you know, in this virtual world, more opportunities for times like that just times to be open and free.

Lilly: For me my focus, it's... right now... I honestly, it's so hard for me to choose one thing, just what I really like to focus on is getting other people my age, to be civically engaged, and to be involved in social justice and activism. So a lot of my focus right now is.. I'm part of MOCO for Change at SSFS, which is Montgomery County for Change. I'm the Vice President of and what our goal is, is really to get other high schoolers involved in civic engagement, especially focusing around social justice. And within that finding identity in unity, I think are what I really am really focused on and focused on letting my life speak about right now.


Kwame: I think what I'm focused on thinking about right now is opening the conversations between intersectionality, that's simply because I feel like--especially with all the work SSFS has taken this year and in my role as diversity rep--we need to start to have these conversations with people different from ourselves, and people who are like to us in some ways...For example, some people are Black, but they're Black and queer. They're Black and another race...and that all comes with a lot of each division comes with its own insecurities, its own stories. And your story is also important. And your story falls into each of these categories. So I'm really trying to enable people, especially in SSFS, and the community... to move out of their comfort zones, look to your neighbor, and look to your friend and just be like, Hey, we're like this And somehow, but I'm also this, and I want you to see that I'm also this because it doesn't make me any less "that" or it doesn't say that this is not the best is just saying that also always have to remember that word. Also, not everybody's a one tale book, unless every book would be a page. there is complexity within each of us. And keep in mind, a lot of us are still navigating bad for ourselves. So we have to find a way to fall into that. And to bridge those gaps.


Irene: I think something that I personally feel a lot of responsibility to work on as Clerk is really promoting this idea SSFS of getting things done, and like taking action steps on one thing I'm really passionate about right now is student voices being heard and listened to by the faculty and the administration. And already I mean, I think we've made tremendous progress in that. I mean, Rodney, you have us here speaking on a podcast, just listening to our opinions, that's huge. That's not common for a school administrator to do is to have this level of engagement. So I think we can even take that a step further, and just really, like get as many people as possible to share their voices. So I'm trying to find concrete steps to take for that, you know, who do I email for this? Who do I talk to about this? And I think that's really useful, especially for young people, because one of the biggest ways we can engage in civic engagement is locally, your local community. So what steps can I take right now to help my community and I think it really helps to take it one step at a time like that. Because I mean, the issues in the world are so daunting, they're so huge, but you can narrow it down two ways. You can make it just your small community and then you can make it immediate steps. And if you constantly keep working on that-- my community immediate steps, my community immediate steps-- then you end up actually making a lot of change, if that's the mindset that a lot of people have because, you know, you're actually moving forward, and you're improving your community. And then that expands and more people join in and so that's really what I'm trying to remind myself of, is that just think about the next thing, think about what are you going to do tomorrow? What are you going to take as your action step today? And that's helped me a lot handle daunting tasks ahead by just realizing you can take it one step at a time, and boom, you've made change, and then you just keep doing it. And big change happens from little change.

Kwame: I just wanted to say, thinking about like, next steps and thinking about going next, we should always keep in mind, this is not going to be our reality forever. If you look back to previous years, the nerds or the hippies become the norms of today. The people who were talking about these things, 20-30 years ago, people that [were] talking about global warming, they were seeing this crazy, so if you ever feel them feel like nobody's listening, nobody's around me--and this is anybody that's listening too-- we can all make change from our little steps. And  I feel like, look at how many people are here. We're all different in several ways. We all have our different races, our different genders, are different sexualities, but we're all able to have a very healthy, functioning, and enriching conversation. So I think we should always just keep in mind, there's always gonna be a brighter tomorrow. So as Lilly said, there's always going to be hope. Keep the hope for a better tomorrow.

Rodney: I think there's no better place or better way to end this conversation than with that. I will tell you all, I'm so proud to be your Head of School, and to have been a listener in this conversation, I feel like I'm going to go back and really process so much of the gifts you all have given us,and if the country had the level of understanding about civic engagement that you all have, we would have been in a much different place a lot faster. And so thank you for that. I remember on the opening day of school speaking to everybody-- students, faculty parents-- and I said, this will be our era where our students will teach us as much as they will learn from us. And you all have certainly lived up to that today. So thank you, friends for for joining for engaging conversation about civic engagement. And I'm sure you have something to do some zoom to be on some homework to catch up on some asynchronous work. But thank you for making the time for us.

Students:Thank you for having me. Thank you so much Rodney

Announcer:Thank you for listening to this week's episode. The Gnu Stories podcast will be taking a bit of a break and be back in December. See you then.

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