Entertainment, Education and Inspiration at MOCHA Morning Ex

Upper School student members of Parker’s Men of Color Heritage Association (MOCHA) launched a week of events observing Black History and Futures month this week by orchestrating a Morning Ex that combined fun, learning and motivation.

To kick off the gathering, students logged in to the game-based learning platform Kahoot, where they competed against each other to demonstrate their knowledge of Chicago streets named for historic African Americans. Once the game ended, MOCHA members took turns sharing more information about the life and work of each historic name in the game, including Ida B. Wells, Jean-Baptiste Point DuSable, Otis Clay, Sam Cooke and Oprah Winfrey.

Junior Payton Pitts then introduced Tiffany Hamel Johnson, a current Parker parent, board trustee and president and CEO of Chicago United (CU), who joined MOCHA Co-Head and junior Hudson Lin on stage for a facilitated conversation.

Johnson described her early years as a high-rise baby, growing up on Chicago’s North Side and taking an early interest in languages at the grammar-school level, which she continued as a foreign language major at Lincoln Park High School and later at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where she majored in Spanish and minored in communications.

Regarding her experience with Black history as a Chicago student, Johnson admitted that her schooling was limited to broader treatments of civil rights, social justice and Martin Luther King, Jr., sharing that her parents did much of the heavy lifting related to teaching her beyond the basics. At home, Johnson came to learn that Black history was a central part of American history, not something separate or peripheral.

Responding to a question concerning what she believes schools should add to their curricula surrounding Black history, Johnson suggested that all schools should get on the same page with common standards and curricular mandates around the topic. “It is more than just slavery, being oppressed, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. There are Black Americans who have played a vital part in making up the fabric of this country. Black history is American history as far as I’m concerned.”

Johnson then discussed more about the work of her organization to help create a stronger and more inclusive business environment in the city. As a member-driven advocacy organization, CU offers programming and thought leadership to CEOs of companies and small businesses to help them understand and embrace the importance of having diverse leaders of color within their ranks. Johnson spoke passionately about the benefits of diverse representation at the table, including innovation, increased shareholder value, ability to look at situations differently and a stronger company overall.

After Johnson fielded a range of questions from students in the Auditorium and Zooming from their classrooms, junior Evan Sato said that he and the other MOCHA heads wanted to share a song by a Black artist that made a historical difference in the world: a music video of Tupac Shakur’s 1989 hit “Changes.” This one song offered a glimpse into the musical stylings that have been gracing the halls of the Upper School this week; as part of Black History Month, a partnership between MOCHA and the Student Government Music Committee has curated playlists of Black Culture-themed music for students to enjoy as they pass from class to class. In the context of the other programming put on by WOCA and the BSU this week, it has been a great week of realizing Parker’s commitment to inclusion, belonging and student agency!

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.