Advancing social change: Alumni speak at Parent Institute


Ceci Coughlin, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, the Horace Mann Parent Institute (HMPI) hosted the Zoom event “Advancing Social Change” for parents at the school. The event, moderated by Gita Shaari P’ 16 P’ 17 P’ 20 P’ 22 and Parent Institute diversity consultant Martha Haakmat, featured eight alumni and one current student. The event was the last in a series of monthly Parent Institute events this year, Director of HMPI Wendy Reiter said.

The panel consisted of Molly Weissman ‘06, Chidi Akusobi ‘08, Kenny Thompson ‘09, Imani Moise ‘12, Olivia Rodriguez ‘13, Conasia Watts ‘13, Jody Lewen ‘82, Susanna Loeb ‘83, and Nshera Tutu (12).

The HMPI hosts monthly events during which a variety of people speak on aspects of parenting. This year, the HMPI events focused on antiracism, Reiter said. 

Reiter, Haakmat, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly, and Assistant to the Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer Nafie Shelly worked with the Alumni Development Office to invite alumni who contributed to anti-racism and social change in their communities, Reiter said.

Inviting alumni to participate in HMPI discussions is a good way to inspire parents because it helps them visualize paths their children could take in the future, Reiter said. Parents also learned about the school’s impact on the education and quality of life of the panelists and how it helped panelists determine their professional goals, she said.

During the event, Shaari and Haakmat asked the panelists about the school’s influence on their lives and the role of an educational institution in overcoming racism.

Moise spoke from the perspective of a Black student who attended a predominantly white institution over 10 years ago. “I was the Black girl on campus,” she said. If somebody had a question about the Black experience, Moise was the person they went to, she said. This experience led her to write for Duke University’s student newspaper in college — Moise realized that since the newspaper was supposed to reflect the student experience, it should have included Black people. The best way to confront an absence of Black representation in organizations, such as a school newspaper, is to get involved, she said.

Akusobi spoke about attending the school through Prep for Prep, a program that offers students of color access to private education. Now, Akusobi studies microbiology, epidemiology, and infectious diseases. Outside of his enrollment in the MD-PhD program at Harvard, he works to increase the number of underrepresented students entering the STEM fields and fighting for racial justice in medicine with White Coats for Black Lives, a nonprofit student-run social justice organization. Akusobi is currently working to provide minority communities with access to the COVID vaccine. 

Tutu also reflected on her influences as a Black student at the school. Last year, she attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) with 1,800 other high school students to talk about social justice and equity work, she said. By conversing with students who had similar experiences as people of color at elite schools, Tutu learned how to make a difference on a small and large scale. Her work at the SDLC helped lead to the creation of Black Students Demanding Change, a student-led organization dedicated to making US private schools actively anti-racist.

The final HMPI event reflected the overall goal of the series — teaching parents how to navigate the school and support their children, Reiter said.

“I had no idea there were so many avenues in which people could take [on] social justice issues,” Andrea Madaio P ‘23 said. “It opened up my eyes to the possibilities that exist for my own daughter.”

The event was thought-provoking for the parents in attendance. “We as parents love to hear the perspectives and to learn the work of those who have graduated and what they are doing as they follow their passions,” Shaari said.

For parents, the discussion highlighted the importance of allowing students to explore their passions, Tutu said. The diverse group of alumni that spoke strengthened this message.

Parents should show unconditional support to their children and allow them to be who they want to be at the school, even if it can be a challenge, Moise said.

“It was a really interesting discussion around racial identity, equality, and inclusion,” Elisabeth Benjamin P ‘23 said. “It was a fascinating program and I really learned a lot. It was a wonderful conclusion to the year-long conversation we have been having.”