Tower travels: Our SDLC experience

All of the SDLC participants from Masters were able to meet one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Omekongo Dibinga to learn about his artistry, poems, and songs while gaining inspiration from him.
All of the SDLC participants from Masters were able to meet one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Omekongo Dibinga to learn about his artistry, poems, and songs while gaining inspiration from him.
Matthias Jaylen Sandoval
SDLC 2023

At the America’s Center Convention centers in St. Louis, MO, thousands of students and educators from independent schools around the country sat in the large auditorium, excitedly waiting for the opening ceremony. Amongst the crowd were Tower staffers, Matthias Jaylen and Ayanna Beckett, who were present and participating in the annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) This year’s theme of the conference was, “Gateways to Freedom: A Confluence of Truth, Knowledge, Joy, and Power. ” Throughout the 4-day conference, participants went through workshops, affinity groups and listened to keynote speakers learning how to become stronger leaders and communicate effectively between different cultures. 

Jaylen and Beckett, along with four other Masters students were selected to go to the conference, as a part of the Diversity Ambassador program at Masters.

Rodney Glasgow, was one of the beloved co-chairs of SDLC, that inspired and taught all students present how to be kinder, more empathetic, and better leaders.
At the Latino Affinity group, I was able to meet many students with strong Colombian herritage like myself. We all connected, and bonded over our shared nationality there and posed in a group photo with our new Colombian friends.
Si se puede, yes we can

When our group took off from LaGuardia on Wednesday, and we were en route to St. Louis, I had no idea what the sessions were going to look like, how many kids were going, if I would learn anything or even enjoy myself at the conference. Not knowing what my days at the conference would look like made me nervous and was the only thing on my mind for the duration of the flight. Despite the nerves, I walked into the conference, ready and willing to participate, listen and learn as much as I could. 

Matthias Jaylen, Camilo Bitar Racedo, and Chanel Neal, smiling as they arrived to the Saint Louis airport, ready to head to the conference.

On our first day at the conference, I woke up at the crack of dawn with my roommates for the trip, Juan Torres ‘25 and Camilo Bitar Racedo ‘24, picked up breakfast and went off to the first opening session at 8:15 a.m. Walking into the conference center, I was amazed at all the people present. Bitar Racedo, Torres and I gave our best guesses on how many people were there. Torres guessed 3,000, Bitar Racedo guessed 6,000 and I guessed 5,000. When the ceremony started, though, it was announced that 8,000 people were present, and we were all amazed by the sheer number of people there. The most beautiful part to me was the energy in the room though. Everybody was in great spirits, smiling, laughing and introducing themselves to new people. That positive energy was infectious and immediately caught on to our group. That’s when I knew that the conference would be such a special experience.

Following the opening ceremony, we were placed in “family groups” with about 70 students from all backgrounds in each group. My favorite part about the family groups was that no one would be in a group with someone from their school. At first, that part scared me a bit, but I really appreciated how it forced me to step outside my comfort zone, and branch out and build new and meaningful connections within my group. I was able to meet amazing people from all over the country, places like California, Massachusetts, Virginia and a bunch of other states. 

There, in our groups, we would first explore our own identities and determine what makes us unique, as well as find what parts of our identities are most important to us. Our group leaders would also lead us through activities, where we would be asked provocative questions that we would discuss in a Harkness-like method, teaching and reminding all of us in the group the importance of learning, listening and standing up for what you believe in.

The most critical skill I developed, though, was having respectful dialogue, especially with those that you disagree with – a skill that many students in our generation seem to lack.

— Matthias Jaylen, Editor-in-Chief

The most impactful part of my experience was the affinity group space. Being proud of my Colombian identity, I chose to go to the Latino and Hispanic affinity group. There, the energy was so warm and welcoming, and I felt like I was in a space I could call home. There were so many of us, from so many countries. We began with a roll call, trying to see what countries were represented in our group. Every single Latino country was represented in the group. For our first session, we were asked several questions to discuss with a partner. One of them was, “I am proud to be Latino when?”

 After the individual conversations were completed, there was an open space to go up to the front and speak to the room and share their responses. Listening to these students share why Latino culture is so beautiful, whether it be country, food, music or literature, was so touching and reminded me of how proud I am and should be to be Latino.

My biggest takeaway from the Latino affinity group, though, was an idea that we all loved and floated around a lot. “If I win, we all win, if you win, we all win.” It’s the philosophy that we as a group created to always support and uplift our own people, because we are all striving for the same thing: Hispanic and Latino excellence, amongst all fields.

As we got closer to the end of our time with the affinity group, we had a dance party, where I got to flex my salsa and bachata skills and dance around with a bunch of people I was just starting to meet. We sang Romeo Santos, Selena, Juan Luis Guerra and Grupo Niche, and we danced the night away with our people’s music. To me, that group truly felt like familia

Finally, as we learned from the sessions, we walked out of our group, proud. Proud of our community and our identity, and we made it known to everyone at the conference. About 400 of us Latinos walked out of the affinity group space and back to the main hall, where the rest of the students were chanting “Si se puede” over and over again. The sound boomed and echoed through the conference center, making our presence known and heard because we are here, and we are strong. I believed in our chant, a powerful chant started by Cesar Chavez fighting for Latino immigrants’ rights in the 1970s. Si se puede, yes we can.

Leaving the conference, and learning from speakers, instructors, and many other students of color about their struggles in independent schools and predominantly white institutions (PWIs), I felt grateful and motivated. I’m grateful that I was chosen to have this wonderful learning opportunity and experience, grateful for everyone who was vulnerable and shared their stories, and grateful for all the kind new friends I made that I hope to stay in touch with. What I’m most grateful for is Masters. As compared to other independent schools, Masters, administration and community leaders have done an excellent job at creating a sense of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

And while Masters is doing an exceptional job, with all I learned at the conference, I feel motivated to be better. I feel motivated to continue working hard to ensure that I live my school’s mission statement, “To be a power for good in the world,” both in and outside of the classroom as well as aid in my capacity as a student leader to make sure that Masters is an equitable and inclusive space, in which anyone that walks on to our campus can feel like they belong.

At the Latino Affinity group, I was able to meet many students with strong Colombian herritage like myself. We all connected, and bonded over our shared nationality there and posed in a group photo with our new Colombian friends. (Matthias Jaylen Sandoval)
After Dr. Omekongo Dibingas keynote speech, Ayanna Beckett, and Matthias Jaylen Sandoval were able to meet him, and ask him questions about his presentation.
Unlike any other experience

The first thing I remember about the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) was the lights. When our group walked into the conference room, filled with thousands of people, the surrounding lights illuminated the stage, and I felt smaller than I ever had before. I wondered how many people were there and if I would walk away from this experience a changed person or if this would just be a small anecdote to tell my friends when I returned to Masters. Despite my nerves and fears, I walked into the conference ready to face whatever they had waiting for me. 

It wasn’t long until my fears about how impactful this experience would be were soothed. During the opening ceremony of the conference, the stories that were shared moved me. 

The most impactful part of the opening ceremony for me was the silent movement activity that we did. The activity included the adults on the stage reading out different identities that people had, and if you felt that identity reflected you, you would stand up. Watching people stand for Identities that I identified with made me feel seen, and watching people stand up for identities that I didn’t even know existed taught me that I still had more to learn as a student leader on campus. But what impacted me most of all was seeing the people I came with from Masters stand up for identities that I didn’t know they had. I had been going to school with these five people for the last year and a half, and yet I didn’t know them at all. I saw them in the hallways, but I never really saw them. And that changed the way I saw my interactions with others.

No matter how many times you pass another person on campus, you can’t really get to know them if you don’t talk to them, don’t try and see who that person is underneath what they show. 

— Ayanna Beckett, Photo & Illustration Editor

And at the conference, I carried that lesson with me, I listened when others talked about their experiences, I learned about different cultures, ethnicities, and identities, and I met people that I would never have known if I didn’t go to the conference and for that, I am thankful for it. 

On the last full day of programming, we had a speaker, Dr. Omekongo Dibinga. His speech was riveting and full of passion and excitement. In his speech, he talked about how he struggled for a long time with being his authentic self and how, through accepting himself, he was able to make an impact on the world. Listening to him moved me. I saw myself reflected in the stories he shared: stories about being underestimated, about people not understanding and making fun of his culture, about wanting to hide parts of who he was. But through his story, I saw a way that I could move through that, to make spaces for myself where I could feel seen and understood, and where I could help others feel more understood and seen. 

SDLC was unlike any other experience I had ever had. I will never forget it. It made me feel understood. For the first time in a while I was surrounded by people who looked like me and who were just as committed to changing the world as me. That is something I will never forget. But It also made me reflect on my experiences at Masters. I realized how many people I passed every day, how many people I saw but never see. That lesson is one of the most important that I will bring back with me. To make an effort to make connections with people here at Masters. 

After Dr. Omekongo Dibinga’s keynote speech, Ayanna Beckett, and Matthias Jaylen Sandoval were able to meet him, and ask him questions about his presentation. (Camilo Bitar Racedo)
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About the Contributors
Matthias Jaylen Sandoval, Editor-in-Chief
Senior, Matthias Jaylen from North Bergen, NJ is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Tower and has been involved in the publication since he was a Freshman. Matthias loved working for Tower the second he started on staff. Before working his way up the ranks to Editor-in-Chief, he was Tower's Social Media Manager, Distribution Manager, and Opinion Editor. Throughout his time on Tower, Matthias has been a nationally recognized award-winning student journalist, as an NSPA and Best of SNO winner. He hopes to pursue journalism and communications as his major in college. When he's not in the Tower Lab, you can find Matthias in one of the theatres on campus. He's an active performing artist, and acts and sings for the theatre company. In his free time, he loves to watch his favorite baseball teams, the Mets, and the Red Sox.
Ayanna Beckett, Photo & Illustration Editor
Sophomore Ayanna Beckett currently serves as Tower's photo and illustration editor. In this role, she decides who is going to be on her team and gives them assignments of events and stories to capture. Beckett is most proud of her article "New AI Technology at Masters" about Google AI and its effect on students, but she is also proud of getting through her first issue at Tower in this new role. Beckett has high hopes for her future on the paper. She said, "I want to be on the editorial board, probably either the director of multimedia or the editor in chief. I have high goals." Beckett's favorite events that she has covered are "Good Kids" or the dance company because they allow for more artistic choices.
Camilo Bitar Racedo, Distribution Manager

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