Linda Ramos Cooper came to Grace Church School in 1986, when her daughter, Natasha, joined the 6th grade. Her son, Henry, followed the next year, joining the 1st grade. Linda quickly identified a need for families of color to have a place where they could talk openly about their hopes and anxieties. “We wanted to insure the comfort level of new parents and allow them to express their concerns about how being in a predominately white school would affect them and their children.”
That first year, a group of eight families gathered around Linda’s dining room table and sowed the seeds of the Diversity Dinner that we see today. As the annual dinner grew, it moved to the community room in Linda’s building, and, still growing, to the dining room at GCS. “At first,” Linda recalls, “we just wanted parents to be there without anyone from the school. We made connections with parents in other grades, keeping the purpose of the dinner in place. When we moved to the school, we invited some of the teachers and administrators. We started panel discussions with GCS alumni and listened to their reflections on their experiences. It took on a life of its own.”
On October 1, over 300 people of the wider community gathered at the Great Hall at Cooper Union to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this unique and extraordinary event. A panel of alumni and parents of alumni galvanized the audience with honest conversation. There was entertainment – poetry and music. There were readings of highlights from earlier talks. At the conclusion, everyone crossed the street to the High School Division, where a splendid feast awaited.
Various quotes from panel speakers...
I remember my time here being so supportive, safe and drove a lot of my decision afterwards…I attribute my love for Chemistry to those sometimes stressful times in Mr. Diveki’s lab…That’s not to say I didn’t experience some…aggressions –I was, and still am, very conscious about not sounding “too ghetto” to my white classmates… I’ve always been hyper aware of my blackness, my femaleness, my middle-classness in these spaces meant for rich white men….
I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I know that I want to be an example of what people who look like me can achieve.
...my culture shock was more socio-economic than racial. While there were moments where I became super aware of my blackness, they were few and far between. My experience as a person from New York’s inner city was jarring and, at times, isolating.
However jarring an experience, the pros outweighed the cons. I wasn’t intentionally made to feel poor. My classmates were kind, open, compassionate, smart and fun. They welcomed me with open arms and I quickly made amazing friends. …If I’m blessed to experience the joys of parenting, my kids will be getting busted chewing gum and roaming the halls of Grace Church School just like I did.
The Middle School was mostly rich and white, and I was one of 5 black kids in my grade. It was overwhelming to come from a public school where everyone looked like me to this new school…where everyone’s socio-economic background was so different from mine.
Grace has given me more opportunities and taught me more lessons than I could have asked for, and I hope every student of color at Grace, both those currently attending and those will in the future, can describe a similar, wonderful experience.