On Friday, November 18, over 300 Pittsburgh-area high school students gathered for Culture Jam, The Ellis School’s student-led, annual diversity conference. The conference is designed to inspire discussion around diversity-related issues that are present in high schools, the region, and the global community.
The theme of Culture Jam 2016 was Unity Starts With YOU, change cannot happen if everyone waits for the next person to act. No one lacks the power to make a difference. As Alan Turing once said, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
Over 300 students (male and female) from parochial, public, and independent area schools, and student groups including 1Hood, Bhutanese Community Association, Brashear High School, Central Catholic, City Charter High School, Imani Christian Academy, Kiski School, North Allegheny High School, Oakland Catholic, Pittsburgh Milliones University Preparatory School, Sewickley Academy, Shady Side Academy, Shaler High School, Sistah Speak Youth Project, Taylor Allderdice High School, and Westinghouse Academy attended this day-long conference.
Throughout the day, students celebrated diversity, promoted empathy, and discussed social justice in student-led workshops. This year’s workshops included titles such as Stereotyping Our Schools, Body image: How We View Ourselves, FeMENisn: Feminism vs. Meninism, and Creating Your Personal Narrative-Speaking Your Truth. The conference featured guest keynote speaker Tara Sherry-Torres, who is Founder and Creative Director of Café Con Leche LLC. Tara is a creative entrepreneur, cultural influencer, thought leader, TEDx speaker, 2014 Pittsburgh Magazine 40 Under 40 recipient and one of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's 2015 People to Meet.
All participants were asked to take a pledge before attending Culture Jam. Students pledged to make the event a safe and productive experience for everyone by listening, speaking up and educating others, being respectful and understanding of viewpoints, and by finding a way, great or small, to work against culture judgement in their own communities.
Culture Jam 2016 would not have been possible without the many student organizers that worked for months to plan this special event. Student leaders included the The Ellis School’s Student Diversity Club co-presidents, Pallavi Muluk, Class of 2017, and Jordyn Tomlin, Class of 2017; an Ellis student steering committee; and 25 student workshop leaders including Ellis students and local community organizers.