As we near our 3rd annual Student Voice Summit, Mindful Practices had an opportunity to chat with Pharlone Toussaint, our Director of Equity, Belonging, and Partnerships. Pharlone is also the Director of External Affairs for the Center for Healing and Justice through Sports and is no stranger to using her voice to make change.
Toussaint attended Boston Community Leadership Academy as a high schooler where she had the chance to share her student voice. As we discussed her time there as a High School Student, she recalls a few key elements that led her to using her voice and becoming an activist. First, when she began participating in sports. Second, her school did not administer tests, but required students to build and defend portfolios instead. And third, her principal encouraged her and her classmates to view the school as theirs.
Becoming an Athlete
When Toussaint started playing basketball, she realized that she could really contribute to a team, that people were counting on her, and that her presence was valuable. This was one of the first occasions she can remember where her coach and her teammates looked to her and called on her to step up and lead. This is one of the reasons that she is dedicated to the mission of the Center for Healing and Justice through Sports as she maintains that sports are a powerful tool for healing in our communities.
At Boston Community Leadership Academy, Toussaint and her classmates had access to a creative lens on education and their teachers did not test them with traditional quizzes or exams. Instead, as they worked through any unit, they were tasked with building out a portfolio of their work, incorporating feedback to make edits, and ultimately engaging in a Portfolio Defense meeting with their teachers. Toussaint said,
“If I am a good speaker today, a large part of that is from me learning how to defend my portfolios in high school. If I gave a non-answer, my teacher would push me to explain in a more specific and grounded way. These are skills I still use.”
A Principal on Her Side
Another core component that helped Toussaint develop her belief in herself and her ideas was her relationship with her Principal. Toussaint said that as a young person, she felt anger –
“The anger that a lot of young people feel when they first realize their parents are human beings and life isn’t fair.”
Her Principal told her once: “I know you’re mad. Be mad! But channel that anger.” So that’s what Toussaint did. She started lobbying for her school to have a spirit week. When she told the Principal she thought they deserved one, the Principal responded with “This is your school! You want to have a pep rally? Then make it happen!”
This call to action and support from her school leader taught Toussaint that if she turned her anger into action, and brought that action to caring and trusted adults, they could work together to be strategic and induce real change in the community.
“Once I took the opportunity to express myself, to use my voice, it changed my trajectory.”
Dear Young People
It’s clear that Pharlone Toussaint has continued on that trajectory – becoming an activist and moving forward in life with a mission. When we asked her what she’d say to current students, this was her advice:
“Don’t obsess over college, or standardized tests, or your GPA. Find what you’re passionate about, make mistakes as you explore your passions, and don’t try to strive for perfection. You want to be happy in the work you do.”
“It’s perfectly normal to feel anger. But channel that anger into issues you care about and find trusted people around you to help you move your passions forward.”
Students, we want to leave you with some final words from Pharlone Toussaint: