Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
This year, Berkshire honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a full day of programming around the theme “Choosing Hope and Power: Finding the Soul of the Nation.” The day included an all-school Zoom assembly with music from acclaimed performer Wanda Houston as well as presentations and discussions with leaders in the fields of education, law, and social justice.
Learn more about those leaders and the workshops they led below:
- WANDA HOUSTON
- SHIRLEY ANN SESSION EDGERTON
- JOHANNA JAMES
- LONDON MOORE
- JOHN SPEER
- KEIANA WEST
- KIMBERLY WILLIAMS
Wanda Houston lives in the South Berkshires where she works as a private vocal coach, choral director, and vocal arranger. She is lead vocalist for a number of projects including Convergence, the Mothership Trio, The VJC Big Band, The HBH Band and The Wanda Houston Band. For years Houston sustained a bi-coastal career in theater and music that put her on stages with the likes of Barbara Streisand, Patti Austin, Joe Cocker, Celine Dion, Rick Astley and Sam Harris. A private scholarship to study opera took her to the University of Southern California, but she soon found herself on tour with Motown legends Mary Wells, Martha and the Vandellas, and The Platters while performing with The Marvelous Marvelettes. Later she joined the cast in the Michael Jackson production of “Sisterella!” and toured through Germany, Austria and Australia.
After returning from Europe, she made the move to New York City in the cast of “A Good Swift Kick” and was later cast in the New York company of “Menopause the Musical.” Wanda was the featured vocalist on Broadway in the Roundabout Theater production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring John C. Reilly and Natasha Richardson and was a soloist with the Broadway Inspirational Voices gospel choir that received a Grammy nomination for its Christmas album, “Great Joy.” Other NYC credits include a performance in the John Tuturro film “Romance and Cigarettes” and featured soloist in RCA’s recording of William Finn’s, “Infinite Joy.”
Shirley Ann Session Edgerton is an Educator, Cultural Competency Trainer and Community Activist. She graduated from Herbert Lehman College (City University of New York) with a B.A., attended Atlanta University School of Social Work and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts where she completed an M.Ed.
Edgerton was employed by the Department of Development Services for 21 years. She served as the Berkshire County Director of the State Operated Homes for adults with Mental Retardation for 15 years. During her tenure she attended Brandeis University and the former Department of Mental Retardation collaborative Diversity Leadership Institute. Mrs Edgerton performed duties as a manager as well as dually trained new staff in Western Massachusetts State Operated Homes. Over the years she encountered numerous Diversity, Equity and Inclusion opportunities; including Harvard University’s Harvard Race, Equity and Leadership in Schools Institute in 2019.
Edgerton joined Pittsfield Public Schools as the first Cultural Proficiency Coach in 2015. This position includes recruitment, organizing Cultural Competency training and developing diverse learning situations for students.
Edgerton has received numerous recognitions as well as two honorary Doctorates degrees from College of Our Lady of the Elms and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for her outstanding service to children and community. In October 2020 she received the MassInc Gateway Cities Institute Innovation Award for strategies to increase diversity amongst educators in Pittsfield Public Schools.
Workshop: Generation Z and Activism: For generations there have been sheroes, heros and others unsung that have impacted change in America. Does being a "good citizen" for Generation Z include engaging politically and socially? The conversation was framed for participants to define and explore Activism.
Johanna James is a graduate of Morgan State University with a B.S. in Biology and currently works as a Research Specialist at the University of Pennsylvania. She is founder and executive director of Our Mothers’ Garden, a multi-platform community intent on creating a generational footprint for women of the Diaspora. Our Mothers’ Garden seeks to empower black women by creating a knowledge base of where we come from, impart the importance of taking up space where we currently are, and outlining a future of our collective imaginations using the building blocks of our ancestors.
In addition to a two decade-long career in science, James co-organized a collective that is a community of practice centering the quality of life and livelihoods of all black women through community organizing, philanthropy and self-care. Even while being in service to others, she continued to cultivate a supportive and empowering community that has not only increased her social well-being but has nurtured her emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Being intentional in creating community has shone a light on what is nourishing to her soul and has elucidated where she wants to take both her inherent skills and those gained throughout her self-discovery. She believes that as black women thrive, so do their families and the larger community. James, who was born and raised in the Caribbean, formally educated in the United States of America, and lived in Nairobi, Kenya, considers herself a Daughter of the Diaspora.
London Moore is the Director of Schools for Nova Pioneer in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to this she was the Founding Principal of THRIVE Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s first public boarding school. She recently founded Diaspora Travels, a culturally relevant travel company, that creates curated travel experiences across the Diaspora. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She attended Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts where she obtained her Bachelor's Degree in 2019 in Political Science. She obtained her Master's Degree in Educational Leadership at Louisiana State University, where she will be graduating in May of 2021 with her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.
She began her teaching career in Ghana, West Africa where she has since co-founded the Ghana Educational Collaborative, a non-profit that sends children to school and gives them leadership and development training. She taught in Baker City Schools, becoming Park Ridge’s Teacher of the Year. She also worked for Teach For America helping recruit and train new teachers at the University of Southern California and the University of California-Irvine. She is deeply invested in new teacher and new leader development and works on crafting and implementing teacher training as they progress toward certification with organizations like Louisiana Resource Center for Educators and Instill. Moore has also been a member and lead fellow of America Achieves and works on the intersection between the classroom and education policy, as well as has given recommendations to the U.S Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan on the RESPECT Project. She has further worked on supporting the work of the Common Core as a Student Achievement Partners fellow as well as assisted in crafting and lead trainings on Louisiana’s new career development curriculum. Moore strongly believes that all children have the right to a quality education and is committed to ensuring students and teachers reach their full potential. This conviction consistently drives her work.
Workshop: More Than A Single Story: This workshop explored what it means to see others through the lens of a single story. The group explored aspects of who we each are as individuals and what makes up our stories. They also unpacked the dangers of the single story, acknowledged times when we reduce others to a single story and considered how we want to show up moving forward.
John Speer is the Diversity and Inclusion Educator and English/history faculty at Berkshire School. Hailing from Montgomery, Alabama and alumnus of the University of Alabama for both his undergraduate and master’s degree, Speer specializes in curriculum and instruction with focus in social justice pedagogy and leadership frameworks. He is new to the Berkshire area, but has served as curriculum specialist and coach in Asheville, Atlanta, and Seattle independent schools for over nine years. He is currently a Board member with the Clinton Church Restoration Project and also operates as independent Diversity Consultant and certified S.E.E.D Leader.
Workshop: The workshop invited participants to define Unconscious Bias and examine themselves as unconscious participants in bias while simultaneously providing tools to check bias in your personal and public life.
Keiana West is an Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Fellow and earned a B.A. in Psychology from Williams College, where she conducted research on the school-to-prison pipeline, co-developed a curriculum for a juvenile court alternative sentencing program, and co-directed the Justice League Summer Program, a social justice leadership and mentoring program for middle school students. She evaluated a diversion program for people charged with low-level offenses in South Africa, where as a Princeton in Africa Fellow, she worked as a Monitoring & Evaluation Fellow prior to joining EJI in 2020.
Workshop: During her presentation, Keiana discussed our nation's history of racial injustice pertaining to Black Americans, specifically hightlighting the eras of enslavement, Reconstruction, racial terrorism, resistence to desegregation, and the current era of mass incarceration. She also discussed EJI's founding, legal work, and public education work, leaving room for a Q&A discussion during and at the end of the presentation.
Kimberly Williams is an educator, lawyer, advocate, and mother. A native of Louisiana, Williams spent the last 15 years fighting for change and opportunity for children. While she had the opportunity to receive a high-quality education at Louisiana School for Math Science and Arts in Natchitoches, LA, Williams recognized early on that quality options did not exist for all children. A graduate of Southern University and the Southern University Law Center, Williams began her career in the Legal Department at JP Morgan Chase. When the state took over the high school in her hometown, she immediately sought out ways she could help.
Over the last 15 years Williams has worked in numerous capacities, including working with the Gates Foundation, Friendship Public Charter Schools and for former Louisiana Superintendent John White. She has been a teacher, a school leader, a policy advocate, board lawyer and curriculum developer. With a unique background in both legal, policy, business, and education she brings a fresh perspective to every situation she faces. Williams also holds an MBA from Louisiana State University.
Workshop: Social Justice and the Rule of Law: Is Justice Blind?
Today we honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with presentations by leaders in education, law and social justice and discussion groups led by students around the theme “Choosing Hope and Power: Finding the Soul of the Nation.” Thank you student leaders & presenters! #MLKDay #MLK pic.twitter.com/Q9Yj8fkrhl— Berkshire School (@BerkshireSchool) January 18, 2021