Dr. Cottingham was appointed Interim Upper School Director in July 2021, and her Pingry experience includes three years as Upper School Academic Dean and a semester as Interim English Department Chair.
By Sara Courtney
During the January 13 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assembly, held in Pingry’s Hauser Auditorium, Austin-based slam poet Andre Bradford, a.k.a S.C. Says, engaged the Middle and Upper School students in ways that made them clap, snap, and, ultimately, connect. His performance, titled “Kintsukuroi: On Empathy And Other Things”, sought to provoke students and staff into understanding the value of appreciating our similarities and differences, whether through slam poetry, or by simply asking a friend how they are doing twice—a straightforward question repeated to emphasize empathy and connection. As the students contemplate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the performance by S.C. Says set the tone for the school to deepen its connection to one another while serving, in an echo of the Pingry Honor Code, “the larger community of the world.”
There is an immediacy to slam poetry, a raw intimacy that draws the poet and audience together. Mr. Bradford says this is because it is an art form about connection, and marvels at the way his own unique experiences can resonate with so many. “That is literally how human connection happens,” he explains. “We just share our stories. There is something about hearing another human being having the same hurts, same struggles, maybe even the same goals, same desires, that actually starts to bring us closer to that person. We start to develop these really strong emotions, like trust, appreciation, maybe even love. And these emotions are what help us develop the connection we need with the people around us to help us get through life.”
His first poem, titled “Crayon Box”, took the audience on a journey through his childhood wonder—“What if, as children, we had to grow up in a school as colorful as our crayon boxes?”—and the pain he experienced from trying to blend in. “I grew up in a non-culturally diverse neighborhood,” he says. He spent his formative years trying not to attract attention, yet he now stood solo onstage imploring the rapt audience to “be curious about where someone else is coming from.” His second poem, “A Kindness”, was about a bad day Mr. Bradford was struggling with when he found himself stuck in line at Walgreens behind a slow-moving elderly woman buying a random assortment of items, much to his growing frustration. Yet when he impatiently leaves, he is astonished to discover she is donating her random assortment of items to the man experiencing homelessness outside the store. Urging the students to put themselves in another person's shoes, he observes, “It is really hard to have empathy for somebody if you don’t take the time to hear any of their story.” Perhaps the most moving poem was “Dwarf Planet”, an exploration on depression, mental health, and the painful experiences that often lead us to wonder, “How come we haven’t developed hazard signs for people yet?”
The word Kintsukuroi describes the Japanese art of repairing a piece of broken pottery by mending it using a golden metallic lacquer. “The finished piece is arguably more beautiful after it was broken than it was in the first place,” he says, noting that great leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fostered empathy and connection to highlight broken injustices and create sweeping change. “Empathy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal right now to truly change the world around us.”
Mr. Bradford encourages people to share not just the “highlights” of their lives, but the “heavy points,” too. As the students sat in quiet reflection, Mr. Bradford discussed the Pingry Honor Code. “I was reading your Honor Code, and there’s a line in there that really resonates with me. It’s on working for the greater good, and not solely focusing on just personal achievement. That is how movements become successful,” he emphasized. “That is how struggles gain light, gain momentum, and eventually find help, find support. It’s how you build communities that are inclusive and equitable. That line is what we need more of today.”
Contact: Sara Courtney, Communications