Erik Weihenmayer
Erik Weihenmayer

“Breaking Bread” and “Breaking Barriers”—Two more reasons to be at CA

This was a great week at Colorado Academy. We had two incredible community-building events that were inspirational—each in their own way.

One was Erik Weihenmayer, CA parent, author, athlete, mountaineer, and humanitarian. Erik shared his story of being the first blind person to climb Everest, as well as the Seven Summits. He also recounted his amazing story of kayaking through the Grand Canyon. He shared video of his trip, kayaking through the daunting Lava Falls—a section of boiling water and 20-foot waves that one can hear for miles upstream. On his first run, he had to eject after being tossed around. The next day, after careful reflection, he tried it again and went through this impressive “barrier.”

Erik talked about how disease caused him to lose his eyesight at age 14 and how he was determined to not let that stop him from pursuing an active and engaged life. He has had many adventures and accomplishments, but there is little doubt that his work with his No Barriers organization has been transformative. This organization’s mission is “to unleash the potential of the human spirit.” No Barriers creates outdoor and experiential adventures for people with a physical or emotional disability and helps people realize that humans can overcome even the toughest barriers. The organization also serves veterans and young people. Their work is life changing.

It was fascinating to watch the faces of the many students and parents in the audience as Erik shared his adventures. Erik spoke about new technology whereby a video image is mapped to a vibrating plate on his tongue, thus providing him with an outline of what is in front of him. He made the comment that we “really see with the brain” rather than our eyes. Vision is just one window into the brain. As an educator, I couldn’t agree more. Our brains engage in so many ways to make sense of the complex world around us.

Nina Moore
CA parent and Trustee Nina Moore speaks at the inclusivity event.

A day before Erik’s lecture, we had a gathering for anyone in our community, but especially for parents of CA students from diverse or multicultural backgrounds. One of the “barriers” we grapple with is how, as a country, we live up to the promise and ideal of true freedom and equal opportunity for all.

The purpose of the event was to hear from parents about their children’s experiences here at CA and for us to discuss how we can continue to create and sustain a climate in which EVERY student—no matter their background—can realize his or her full potential. We plan to continue these conversations and expand our audience. At this event, we had parents who are African American, Latino, Asian, and Arab. We had Anglo parents who have adopted children from around the world. We had Caucasian families who wanted to be there to listen and understand the experience of others.

Parents shared with us the trust they have in the school and the many positive aspects of their child’s experience. Many noted how CA can be a safe space, even when the world is not.

Students of color comprise 24% of the student body, and 20% of the faculty are from diverse backgrounds. But we know that there are many times in which students of color are very aware that they are not the majority. Parents shared the complex interplay between the “outside world” and the world of CA. One example was a parent commenting on how society’s standards of female beauty affect how her children feel about themselves.

We heard about how our students have been “up standers” when they have witnessed bigoted and racist actions by students from other schools. Parents talked about the power of celebrating our differences and sharing our experiences. We talked about the need to get comfortable with conversations about race, privilege, and power. We also talked about the importance of allies and role models, and of allowing students to make mistakes as they figure out race and racial identity.

The parents and overall sense of community left me feeling that we have the power to make our school even stronger and more inclusive, and that as a community, we have the will to do the hard work and have the hard conversations together.

We ended the evening with one parent sharing the power of breaking down stereotypes. She argued of our need to “break bread with other people from other faiths and other walks of life.” She spoke of the power of sitting together and sharing stories. She implored others not to be “color blind” in this work but to work hard see all the colors of all the people around us. Before us we have a great opportunity, to use our “brains” and intellect to help us see the world more clearly and to develop relationships in our community based on mutual respect, shared values, and understanding.

Indeed, it was a special week at CA, and one that reminded me of how genuine, how courageous, and how inspirational it is to be part of this community.

Enjoy the weekend!