Black Alumni Reflecting on Their Experiences at Friends Select

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Friends Select School has recommitted itself to seeking racial justice, teaching tolerance, and building an anti-racist community. Working with national alumni board president Steve Lawrence ’81 and director of equity and inclusion Toni Graves Williamson, Friends Select has been making concerted efforts to engage with and listen to Black alumni. Recently, Nyeema Caldwell ’20 and Cindy Harper Covington ’84 reflected on their experiences as Black students at Friends Select. 

Could you describe your experiences at Friend Select as a Black student? 

Nyeema Caldwell ’20 
During middle school, it was hard. Many of my classmates were blatantly racist; other Black students and I often felt targeted by particular teachers. It got easier during upper school. We started talking about race, and I learned how to stand up for myself and speak up during racially charged encounters. The Black Student Union was also available for students in upper school and I would say that did help when I needed it. I also felt like a token Black student; I was always asked to do stuff to represent my school when there were other Black girls in my grade to ask as well. But for the most part, my time at Friends Select was great. I was able to be involved in a lot that ended up opening a lot of doors for me down the line, and I formed a lot of great relationships with people in the FSS community. 

Cindy Harper Covington ’84 
l loved my time at Friends Select. I started in kindergarten, and I often say that my 13 years at FSS were the best gift my parents ever gave me. It is why I chose to send all four of my children to Carolina Friends School in Durham. The last two will graduate this June. It may seem Pollyanna-ish now, but I really just saw myself as a student, and I felt teachers and my fellow students felt the same. We did our best, played sports, had fun, and learned from some of the most dedicated and inspiring teachers around. I had no complaints. When I was in high school at FSS, I remember a fellow student getting mad at me and calling me a derogatory name. Other students and teachers overheard. Everyone was pretty shocked. This student was immediately suspended, and it was clear that such behavior was not to be tolerated in our halls. 

Do you feel that Friends Select provided an equitable learning environment? 

NC: Yes, especially in my last few years. We were offered many electives that weren’t centered around White people. I saw how many yearlong English and history courses changed their areas of focus, and the materials explored [topics] that also weren’t so Eurocentric. I also learned a lot outside of the classroom through presentations given by other students and affinity groups, and I’m glad FSS always had that option available for students to educate each other. We also had a Day of Inclusivity, Community, and Equity (DICE) and Social Justice Week, which were our designated days to have conversations about issues we did not normally focus on in classes. 

CHC: I sure did. I learned and I was comfortable with my abilities. I knew I could perform in a rigorous academic environment. When I got to Johns Hopkins University, I was more than ready to handle coursework—especially when it came to writing and analysis. 

What hope do you have for Black students currently at Friends Select? 

NC: That they are comfortable among students and in classrooms. I hope they do not feel the need to water down their personalities in order to avoid being treated a certain way.
CHC: My hope for all students at FSS is that they graduate feeling validated, ready to succeed in any arena they choose, and able to use Quaker principles in everyday life. Keeping at the forefront integrity, simplicity, equality, community, stewardship of Earth and peace (and justice) will always put one in good stead. 

How do you feel Friends Select can better support and engage with Black alumni? 

NC: I really don’t know. I guess by supporting and engaging us in the same way as other alumni, and referring to us when conversations of Black students at FSS happen.
CHC: Events, a master list of Black graduates and their careers.