How to Create True Community for Black Students at Independent Schools

Black male student sitting at a desk with his hands atop some books

These powerful words hung in the air far above the Baltimore skyline on a crisp fall morning in early November. On the 16th floor of the Baltimore Center Club, an iconic gathering spot for the region’s business leaders, Dr. Edward M. Trusty, Jr., Head of School at the St. Paul’s School for Boys, addressed the nearly 220 of us gathered for the annual Leadership Breakfast sponsored by the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust (B.E.S.T). 

It was clear from Dr. Trusty’s first words that morning that he was speaking directly to the 120 Black students, all B.E.S.T. scholars, in attendance. He held himself up as an example of how high they could reach – and his words held each of us, including the 100 or so community and Independent school leaders at breakfast in the palm of his hand. 

“I’m told I’m the first African American head at an independent school here in Baltimore,” Dr. Trusty said. “My hope is that our schools are places where you can be comfortable being yourself. Don’t just bring your code-switching, independent-school self to [the] table, bring your authentic self.” 

It was an incredibly inspirational address. Here I was, a middle aged, white man listening to an extraordinary Black educator, speaking to a room where for once I was in the minority. 

The moment was not lost on me. It’s 2023 in America, and far too many of our fellow citizens continue to play the race card in many aspects of our daily life. Racism and hate have no place in our country. 

We need more organizations like B.E.S.T. that plays a powerful role in providing access to the greater Baltimore independent school community for students that have been marginalized for far too long. Does your local independent school community have an organization like B.E.S.T.? If not, it’s time for you and your fellow school leaders to start one. 

Founded in 1987, B.E.S.T. supports academically ambitious African American children with financial need in the Baltimore area by assisting them through the admissions process as they apply to independent schools and supporting them as students. 

Jessica Wolf Suriano, B.E.S.T’s Executive Director, welcomed us that morning with words of intentionality as she “set the table” for the morning’s program: “Being with our B.E.S.T. students is always special, but there is a particular magic that happens when we convene our upper school students, our alumni, our member school Heads of School, our community trustees, our most generous funders, and our dear friends of B.E.S.T. for this event each year. The power of this collective is like nothing else in Baltimore, and it is joyful to celebrate our students and those who are deeply committed to our mission. Being with Baltimore’s leadership of today and leadership of tomorrow is awe-inspiring, and knowing that our B.E.S.T. students – with their independent school networks, and the networks they are building with Baltimore’s top corporate, philanthropic, and educational leaders – are next in line…that is nothing short of amazing.”

It comes down to access and leveling the playing field. To me that’s the essence of what B.E.S.T. does so well. Many independent schools around the country, the Baltimore region included, for far too long were bastions of white privilege, where access for minority students was difficult to attain. That paradigm has begun to change here in Baltimore, due in large part to the tireless efforts of B.E.S.T.

Crystal Lee Alston, B.E.S.T’s Director of Advancement and a proud alumna of Garrison Forest School, Class of 1996, shared this perspective with me. “As a B.E.S.T. alumna, former B.E.S.T. Board Member and now a member of the staff, I have had the privilege of seeing many different facets of this wonderful organization and watching it grow,” she explained. “In the 1990s, we didn’t have the benefit of all the enriching programmatic support that our students of today have. Being with our students and families fills me with an immense amount of pride. My parents finding B.E.S.T. was such a blessing, one that I count each day. B.E.S.T. changed the trajectory of my life and put me on this path. I am eternally grateful.”

We must all applaud the important work that B.E.S.T. and its leadership do. Kalix has been a multi-year corporate supporter of B.E.S.T., donating a portion of our profit each year to them. Please consider joining with us to support the critical work that they do.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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