Senior Kenyatta Dumisani begins many JEDI Council meetings by explaining the meaning of his name and encouraging new members to do so as well.
“My father named me Kenyatta because he wanted me to be like Jomo Kenyatta, a catalyst for widespread social change,” he said.
Sharing names creates a feeling of familiarity between the members of the council, he said, strengthening the sense of community, just as the council intends to do within the school.
The JEDI Council is an assembly of students dedicated to improving the Country Day community as a whole. Its title is an acronym for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion — the tenents the council strives to achieve.
Head of High School Brooke Wells said the idea for the council began in December 2019 after the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference.
“As I listened to the kids share their experiences, I remember hearing the acronym ‘JEDI.’ Immediately, I knew we needed to pursue this,” Wells said.
Turning this vision into a reality proved difficult at first. Progress was slow, and without a designated leader, the probability of the council being ready by the coming year was slim. That was until Kenyatta Dumisani decided to take initiative.
For Dumisani, the idea for the JEDI Council began his freshman year.
“I struggled to find where I belonged,” Dumisani said. “High school hits you like a tidal wave, or at least it did for me. I not only faced a new onslaught of academic and athletic challenges, but I also developed a sinking feeling of alienation as I was the only African American student in my class.”
Over time, Dumisani succeeded in finding a sense of belonging. Now, as a senior, he intends to use his experience to help others in a similar situation.
With Dumisani’s leadership, the council has begun to engage with the student body via a series of surveys. The data collected through these surveys will provide the council with the resources needed to best move forward.
They intend to strengthen bonds within both the student body and the greater community of Sacramento. To accomplish this, the council plans to host games and Zoom get-togethers that they hope will function to increase comradery between classmates. Currently, the plan is to use some of the information collected from the surveys to create a game that will allow students to better know one another.
Yet, like other clubs, the JEDI Council has faced difficulties operating remotely.
“Conversations over Zoom are an interesting conundrum,” Dumisani said. “Sometimes people can be camera shy, and I find it very interesting to talk to a gray name box on a computer about complex emotions.”
Nevertheless, Dumisani is not deterred; rather, he views it as an opportunity for him to be more engaged.
“The fact that we are online reduced the quality of our club significantly, but it just means I have to work twice as hard to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Dumisani said.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. In fact, freshman Sylvia Valverde said that it was Kenyatta and the other club members’ determination that made her want to be a part of the club.
“After joining a meeting just to check the club out, I felt like I wanted to be a part of the group effort,” she said. “I could see that the people in the group were genuinely determined to improve our school’s dynamic.”
Since then, Valverde has made a point to attend the weekly meetings. With students apart due to COVID-19, she feels a sense of community is more important than ever.
Like Valverde, freshman Mia Crowder views the council as a needed avenue for change.
“In any school, there will be, and are, problems that go unnoticed or under the radar. Having a group of students who can focus some of their time toward helping to find those issues and potentially helping students directly could make a big difference,” Crowder said. “Just having discussions about general problems is always important.”
— By Simone DeBerry
Originally published in the March 9 edition of the Octagon.