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Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Steward School
Inaugural conference celebrates and inspires 
More than 100 Middle and Upper School students, staff, and faculty from Steward and other Richmond independent schools participated in the first-ever Beloved Community RVA Conference, which took place at Steward on January 16. The day-long event, designed to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., featured invited speakers, workshops, and student-led affinity groups. 

In planning and collaboration with Steward’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, Tiffany Goodman (diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator), Rashad Lowery (coordinator of campus life and community stewardship), and Trevor Smith (Upper School humanities teacher) coordinated the conference, which the Virginia Diversity Network generously sponsored. 

Sharing Insights 
“It was a phenomenal gathering,” said Ms. Goodman. “Participants were fully engaged —
examining their own and others’ perspectives, learning about our city, sharing insights about the life and work of Dr. King, and teaming up to explore ways to foster a ‘beloved community,’ a concept that Dr. King popularized in the 1960s. Dr. King’s vision for a beloved community was one where positive change and genuine relationships were fostered beyond the legal progress of that time. Conference attendees were able to spend time with and learn from community and regional leaders who lead through the lens of community and justice to better our city and surrounding areas.”  

Exploring Superpowers 
Keynote speaker Ebony Walden, founder of Richmond Racial Equity Essays, gave an uplifting talk, “How to Use Your Superpowers for Good,” in which she encouraged attendees to be fully themselves, as there is no one else on Earth like them. “She led us through an insightful and humorous lecture, guiding us to identify three traits that we uniquely have, one superpower that we identify in ourselves, and one way we plan to use our strengths and superpowers for the good of our community,” noted Ms. Goodman. “The students shared that their bigger takeaway from Ms. Walden’s talk was that, if they have a plan or idea, they shouldn’t be swayed by fear or doubt. They should simply decide to ‘do it scared.’”  

Workshops  
Workshops on subjects such as Leading for Change, Being an Upstander, Understanding our Cultures, and Restorative Practice prompted lively discussions and provided opportunities for both faculty and students to explore their roles in the world. 

Workshop leaders included Yaa Akinfolajimi (director, Center for the Advancement of Learning, Steward), Dr. Danny Avula (commissioner, Virginia Department of Social Servies), Tally Botzer (director of educational programs, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities), Roscoe Burnems (Richmond’s first poet laureate, and National Poetry Slam champion), Craig Redmond Cilly (Middle School social studies teacher, Steward), Dr. Lacette Cross (founder/CEO, Will You be Whole and director of Diversity Richmond), Shunda Giles, Esq. (director of Richmond Social Services), Aparna Harger (director of communications, Virginia Diversity Network and teacher at Trinity Episcopal School), Ava Holloway (co-founder, Brown Ballerinas for Change and a student at St. Catherine’s School), Carolina Lugo (director of programs, Sacred Heart Center), Amanda Lynch (founder, Rethinking Resiliency), Jentae Scott-Mayo (school counselor, Steward), Eliza McGehee (Upper School history teacher and Leadership Program coordinator, Steward), Elizabeth Simpson (Upper School academic dean, Steward), and students in Steward’s Leadership Program. A special thank you to Steward student Morgan Smartt ’25, who designed the logo for the conference. 

Making Connections
Affinity groups led by Steward students included Asian, Black, Jewish, Latine, LGTBQ+,  Multicultural, and White Allies and Awareness, and gave students the opportunity to build connections in a safe space, often with music, games, and examples of shared experiences. Thank you to Feryall Abassi ’24, Mikal Banks ’23, Meira Boyle ’25, Zamiyah Burton ’23, Theo Hirsh ’26Ana Reveles Leon ’24, Ada Long ’25, Kamran Mohanty ’26, Shreya Natarajan ’25Rhys Newton ’25, Braylan Rice ’25, Jackson Rhamey ’24, Eli Solodar ’23, Katherine Romero ’23, Morgan Shigley ’25, Maya Trepp ’25, and Ayana Young ’24, who led the affinity groups.

Zamiyah Burton, who co-led the Black affinity group, said, “I enjoyed getting to hear people's stories, and I laughed more than I thought I would. I feel like we all became close, even though we don't all go to the same school.” She continued, “I also liked listening to poet Roscoe Burnems recite his poems, and I found our keynote speaker, Ebony Walden, inspirational. She encouraged me to never undermine my abilities.”

Future Plans
“Our hope is that other Richmond independent schools will host this conference each year,” said Ms. Goodman. “That would be a real tribute to Dr. King’s good work of building a beloved community. It’s exciting to think about what we can do as a community when we collaborate to foster positive change in the world.” 



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