The Frederick Gunn School celebrated and learned about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 16, with a full day of programming, featuring presentations by Kip Bordelon and Pascale Musto, two seasoned Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging practitioners. Working in partnership since 2016, they form a unique and insightful team on matters of leadership and DEIB. As a team, they complement one another in style and enhance each other’s strengths. Both are graduates of New England boarding schools and thus love working with the independent school community.
During the morning session, which was based on the theme, “One Country, Two Nations,” Bordelon discussed an “epiphany moment” he had as a senior at Lawrence Academy in 1995, when his dorm parents, teachers, and coaches were angered by his reaction to the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial. “I call it my epiphany moment because it made me see we can see this country very differently,” said Bordelon, who used that experience, and others he cited from the 1600s to today, to address the question of whether there are “two Americas.”
Bordelon spoke about the divisions that result when we see someone as “other than us,” or “undesirable,” and gave examples to illustrate how discrimination is mired in the perception of “otherness.”
“Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective,” Bordelon said, imploring students to “Take the time to care enough to care; take the time to learn someone else's perspective.”
Bordelon said he had no doubt that students graduating from The Frederick Gunn School will become leaders. “You will find your life’s passion,” he said, encouraging them: “Be righteous, be fair, be broad-minded. Promote unity and lead with purpose.”
Musto also addressed the concept of “otherness,” recounting how, as a junior day student at Choate Rosemary Hall, he slipped and fell on the snowy steps of his home, fracturing his skull, two vertebrae, and his wrist. He spent the next four to five months in a Halo, a ring secured to his skull with four screws. As he sought to return to his daily routine, Musto said he began to notice people looked at him differently. “People would see me, stop and point. I would hear them audibly say, ‘What is that thing? He looks like a monster.’ They would grab their kids and cross the street. They would run up to me with a camera, take my picture, and run away. Everywhere people would call me ‘other.’ Everywhere people would call me ‘thing,’ because of how I looked, because I was differently able,” Musto said, adding that when doctors removed the Halo from his skull and his hair grew back, all of the privileges he had previously enjoyed returned, and people treated him the way they had before his accident.
Musto’s experience, in part, made him committed to doing work in schools so that other people are not “othered.” He introduced Frederick Gunn School students to The American Dream board game, a social justice version of Chutes and Ladders, which challenged them to talk in someone else’s shoes. The game is a tool that allows participants to experience the differences in society, in terms of who has advantages and who does not.
Breaking into small groups by advisory, students began playing the game and quickly learned that the American Dream is not attainable by everyone. Each player is asked to select a character different from themselves, based on different social identifiers. After the first person rolls the dice, the game begins. Players move their piece around the board and draw a customized chance card. Based on the scenario described on the card, players are forced to move their pieces forward or back.
“I hope the experience opens your eyes in terms of othering and in terms of exclusion and helps you become a more inclusive community,” Musto told the students.
Following lunch, the entire school gathered for Bordelon’s presentation on Dr. King as an American Icon, Black leader, politician, pastor, patriot, and pioneer. “My goal today is to talk about his significance, his vision, his dream,” Bordelon said, pointing out that Dr. King was incredibly bright, graduating from college at the age of 19, and in 1957, he was named one of the Top 10 most revered people in the United States. He established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that same year, led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, negotiated the Civil Rights Act and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and through his leadership, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson. And yet, for all that he accomplished and all he endured, Dr. King was also named “the most dangerous Negro of the future of this Nation from the standpoint of Communism, the Negro, and national security,” by the FBI in 1965.
“How did he go from most revered to a national security threat?” Bordelon asked. He noted that the news media became very critical of Dr. King and he “made people uncomfortable” based on his anti-war, pro-labor and anti-poverty views, and his calls for housing and education reform. “He believed in equality but he was a big proponent of justice as well.”
“Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday,” Bordelon concluded. “I think it’s important to understand his true history. He was a man of the people. He believed in upliftment of all people. It didn't matter the color, the gender. We can all I think recognize that he was a person who made a difference, and is someone worthy of a holiday.”
Asked about his goals for the program this year, Drew said he wanted to bring in speakers from beyond the walls of the school or even the county to address topics the community has talked about before. “We’ve discussed injustices, we’ve discussed identity, we’ve just never been able to fully put those things together the way Kip and Pascale were, from different angles,” Drew said, adding “The American Dream game put some truth to words and Kip just reinforced how the school sees identity and the American system, and ultimately, how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion operates in schools specifically.”
"Personally, the MLK Day presentation taught me a lot about the depth of the disparities faced by Black people compared to white people in the U.S., in regards to things such as annual income and job opportunities," said Sidney Mutau '23, who co-leads the student affinity group BALU. "I also learned how the government used tools like exemption clauses to sustain oppression in ways favorable to white people to perpetuate white supremacy. For the community, I hope that the presentation helped us learn more about how to combat inequality in daily life. Pascale talked about how he as a white, able-bodied man was intentional in his day-to-day life to be inclusive and to downplay his privilege (racially, gender-wise, etc.) in his spheres of influence, and I hope people in similar situations were open-minded to implement his strategies in their own lives."
Max Lockett '25, who is in his first year at The Frederick Gunn School, said his hopes the experience of MLK Day will encourage more conversations on topics like these, and encourage the freedom of opinion. “I took it as kind of a learning experience,” said Lockett, who acknowledged that he and Bordelon do not share the same political views, but they have been engaging in a respectful dialogue via email since the event, and they are learning from each other. “It’s a healthy conversation, and conversations are good to have, especially with someone who knows more than you know. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
About the Speakers
Kip Bordelon is the Founder & Director of Operations and Programming at the Picardy Group, a Chicago-based consulting company. He established the business in an effort to work closely with companies and organizations, both public and private, to promote and encourage diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. His passion for diversity was cemented more than 30 years ago when he arrived in Groton, Massachusetts, on the campus of Lawrence Academy from the South Side of Chicago. After completing four years at Lawrence Academy, Bordelon returned home to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago for both undergraduate and graduate school. There, he studied civil rights, civil liberties, Constitutional Law, and politics and earned a master’s degree in public policy with an emphasis on urban economic and community development. Since establishing The Picardy Group in 2011, Bordelon has served members of the business community in education, health care, other industries, and the public sector, by providing workshops and services to a wide variety of audiences.
Pascale Musto is a seasoned Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practitioner and educator, who has been immersed in the life of independent schools for the past 25 years. Throughout his career, Pascale has been focused on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a DEI Director at Middlesex School and Concord Academy, a Dean of Students, and a teacher. In the classroom, Pascale has taught history, humanities, and English and has been engaged in curriculum development centered on DEI initiatives. Additionally, over the past 15 years, Pascale has led a cohort of colleagues in conducting two national surveys and made three documentary films on the experiences of faculty of color in independent schools. Pascale regularly presents his work for the Association of Independent Schools New England (AISNE), the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and other organizations. He has been a member of the AISNE Diversity Practitioners Planning Committee and a faculty member for the NAIS Diversity Leadership Institute. He is a graduate of Choate Rosemary Hall, and he holds a B.A. in American Studies.