2016 High School Scholarships Awarded
We are pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the Sojourner Truth Scholarship for Social Justice, Olivia Kan-Sperling, of Northampton High School, and Lanre Thomas, of Amherst Regional High School.
Olivia Kan-Sperling has used art to start community dialogues around women’s issues at Northampton High School. Inspired by her involvement with First Generation and other theater groups, she started a theater project, which provides a safe space for girls to share their personal experiences with injustice and develop a performance piece to give voice to these issues. The culmination of the group’s discussions, readings, and peer interviews is a play called “An Itch in Her Teeth,” which will be performed this May.
In her application essay, Olivia wrote eloquently about the social justice movement and Sojourner Truth’s legacy.
In addition to this project being overtly linked to feminism because of its goal of educating the community on feminist issues and giving a creative voice to young women, its methodology of critical self-reflection is a core tenet of social justice generally. Any one social movement is nothing if it does not also seek to understand and alleviate other forms of oppression. Even within reform movements of the 19th century, Sojourner Truth was far ahead of her time in this respect. Truth’s work in both the abolitionist and feminist movements laid the groundwork for what is today known as intersectionality: the idea that systems of oppression are interlocking and inseparable. Her famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention epitomizes this concept because it not only posed a strong rebuke to antifeminists, but subtly countered racism within the White feminist movement by highlighting the fact that Truth, as a Black woman, was denied the treatment (being helped over mud puddles, etc) that upperclass white women were given (even if they resented it). The struggle for mainstream feminism to include all women across race, class, ability, and sexuality is ongoing, and will never be fully completed.
Olivia will be combining her interest in theater and social justice to study theater and gender studies at Brown University this fall.
Lanre Thomas is active in many social justice organizations at Amherst Regional High School, including People of Color United, Minority Student Achievement Network, and Black Lives Matter. Through his roles in these groups, he has educated elementary school students on issues of racial prejudice and identity and led community dialogues on issues of race, gender, and identity.
In his application essay, Lanre wrote about how his own experience in the Strive mentoring program
Being black in America never factored into my life until I entered Junior High school. In Junior High, I witnessed students of color, my friends, frequently punished by school teachers, while in U.S. History class we were subjected to a narrative of black history focused on showing the horrors American Slavery and Jim Crow in gratuitous depth while covering barely any of our black heroes and leaders. I had the great privilege to be a participant in a discontinued mentoring program called Strive as in “Strive for Greatness”. Strive consisted of high school upperclassmen of color volunteering their afterschool time to tutor and inform 8th grade students of their experiences pertaining to race in High School. As a child who had seen little representation of black people on school faculty and positions of power in my community, it was very important to have the support of older and more experienced students of color invested in my education. Strive helped me identify with and find power and purpose within my blackness.
Lanre plans to study political science and psychology at St. John’s University this fall, so that he can break down the psychological barriers that prevent students of color from high achievement at educational institutions.
Join us in congratulating our two worthy recipients!