Empowering students with language-based learning differences
The Siena School Blog
“I teamed up with Made By Dyslexia to advocate for those who think differently.” —Rashan Gary
Black History Month 2023
To commemorate Black History Month 2023 and the importance of strong advocacy and raising awareness of what dyslexia is, Siena is honoring Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary for his dedicated dyslexia advocacy.
Gary was born in northern New Jersey in 1997 and attended college at the University of Michigan from 2016 to 2018. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in middle school, sharing in 2021 that “it’s not going to affect me because it’s my superpower. So that’s why I challenge anybody with dyslexia to keep pushing forward and keep chipping away.”
Gary regularly uses his platform as a professional athlete to be the kind of role model he didn’t have growing up. He’s strongly dedicated to “raising awareness about dyslexia and advocating for educator awareness and the critical screening resources are important to me,” as he shared in a recent Instagram post.
Rashan Gary’s Dyslexia Advocacy
Since 2020, Gary has used the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats program to raise awareness for Made By Dyslexia. As the NFL shared in this press release, “Players combine forces with artists and cleat manufacturers each year to create these custom-designed cleats that showcase their causes in a way that resonates personally to the player, their fans and the cause.”
My Cause My Cleats enables players to support causes important to them through one-of-a-kind, hand-painted cleats to wear in a regular season game on a particular week. The cleats are later auctioned off for charity.
Laura Haas, who designed Gary’s cleats for 2022, shared that her own neurodivergent thinking is “kind of my superpower,” and she wanted to highlight “joy and individuality” in her design. (See here for the Instagram post.) Gary’s cleats from 2020 and 2021 likewise highlighted how his dyslexia is a strength for him, as well as how the dyslexic brain might see and process information.
- Watch the NFL’s 2022 ad featuring Rashan Gary here.
- See here for a photo gallery of Gary’s 2022 cleats.
- See here for Gary’s video from 2021 about his cleats.
Additional Links and Resources
Gary has been a visible public figure since he was a nationally recognized high school football player. He understands how important it is to use his platform to advocate for dyslexia awareness and support. Gary has also worked with the Michigan Dyslexia Institute to talk about his journey and inspire others to see superpowers, creativity, and perseverance within themselves.
Other NFL players with dyslexia have raised awareness through My Cause My Cleats, such as Spencer Drango of the Cleveland Browns, Lawrence Guy of the New England Patriots, and Max Scharping of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Siena School blog has other heritage month spotlights related to innovative dyslexia education, including writer and activist Victor Villaseñor, poet Amanda Gorman, figure skater Meryl Davis, film director Ann Hu, and astrophysicist Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock. See also this 2021 blog post on dyslexia awareness and advocacy at Siena.
Learn more about Siena’s commitments and ongoing initiatives for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.
“Be the BEST version of you that you can be. No one will ever do it better. We have dyslexia, and we can accomplish ANYTHING we put our minds to.” —Rashan Gary
Photo by Patrick Semansky, Getty Images
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true,
that even as we grieved, we grew,
that even as we hurt, we hoped,
that even as we tired, we tried,
that we'll forever be tied together, victorious.
—"The Hill We Climb" (2021)
So writes poet and activist Amanda Gorman in her Inaugural Poem, “The Hill We Climb.” When she recited this powerful poem at President Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021, Gorman became the youngest poet (age 22) to read at a Presidential Inauguration in American history.
As part of Black History Month this year, Siena is honoring writer, activist, speaker, and the nation's first-ever youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman. Now at age 23, Gorman has had a prolific year since the Inauguration, publishing an illustrated book for children (Change Sings) in September 2021 and a collection of poems (Call Us What We Carry) in December 2021, in addition to other work.
“ Now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem,” Gorman said after Inauguration Day. “Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.”
Since being diagnosed with speech and auditory learning differences when she was young, Gorman has used poetry (particularly reciting it) as means of both self-expression and adapting to her speech difference. She graduated from Harvard with a B.A. in Sociology and has made many media appearances as a writer and speaker, as well as winning a Genius Award from OZY Media in 2017 when she was still in college and being honored as the first-ever youth poet laureate from Urban Word.
Gorman has always written poetry with a strong sense of social justice and an equally strong awareness of diversity and identity. Her work resonates with Siena students and faculty: in 2021, 8th grade English students discussed her work in class after Inauguration Day, and an elementary student is currently researching Gorman for a project and presentation for Black History Month.
Learn about Siena’s commitments and ongoing initiatives for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. And, see Siena’s blog for related material, including a spotlight on astrophysicist Maggie Aderin-Pocock and an overview of Siena’s Black History Month activities from last year.
We the people are brave enough to love this country’s creed
We the people love this country enough to question its misdeeds
We the people question enough to build upon this foundation
We the people erect an improved hilltop of a nation
Indivisible by where we come from, or who we are born
We the people are those who let freedom ring
So that no matter how we love, talk, pray, or mourn
This America too is ours to build and ours to sing.
—“We the People” (2017)
A key element of The Siena School’s mission is teaching students about the world inside and outside their classrooms. This year for Black History Month, Siena continued the work of integrating social and racial justice issues into students’ learning. This work is year-round, but in honor of Black History Month, the students and faculty worked together to celebrate with a number of activities.
Black History Month Activities at Siena
Students and faculty worked together to mark Black History Month at Siena:
- The Cultural and Activities Committees organized resources and discussion topics and then focused on a different theme each week, such as allyship, addressing past injustices, and influential black athletes, intellectuals, and more.
- The Daily Slide for students featured a successful individual, discussion topic, or resource, such as Wilma Rudolph, Stacey Abrams, or ways to address racism and injustice.
- A school-wide activity encouraged students to build a Black History timeline by moving the historical event to its appropriate year.
- The Student Council Speaker Series arranged for Professor Adrienne Cain from Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History to talk to the students about oral history, black women and intersectionality, and the continued fight for progress and rights.
- This year, Siena implemented an Anti-Racism Curriculum, which meets every two weeks. Using the Teaching Tolerance Standards to guide our classes, the Anti-Racism Curriculum consists of group discussions, community projects, and personal reflections on what it means to be a part of an anti-racist community.
Siena Reading List for Black History Month
Siena faculty and students worked together to create a suggested books reading list (broken down by grade level), including:
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley
- The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson
- Black Boy, Richard Wright
- Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
- Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly
- “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” Zora Neale Hurston (essay)
- Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs
- The Color Purple, Alice Walker
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
- The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
- The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
- March, John Lewis and Nate Powell (trilogy)
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass
- The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963, Christopher Paul Curtis
- The Kidnapped Prince, Ann Cameron
- A Good Kind of Trouble, Lisa Moore Ramée
- Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
- Genesis Begins Again, Alicia D. Williams
- Black Women in Science, Kimberly Brown Pellum, PhD
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
- Talkin' About Bessie, Nikki Grimes
- The Sweet Smell of Roses, Angela Johnson
- The Patchwork Path, Bettye Stroud
- Henry’s Freedom Box, Ellen Levine & Kadir Nelson
- The Undefeated, Kwame Alexander & Kadir Nelson
- Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, Andrea Davis Pinkney
- Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker, Patricia Hruby Powell & R. Gregory Christie
Consider checking for local BIPOC-owned bookstores near you for these and other titles. Local to Siena, for instance, is Loyalty Bookstores, which has a number of great virtual events, suggested reading lists, themed bundles, and more for readers of all ages.
Of course, no single month or set of books or curricular activities can encompass the complexity of black history, so Siena students will continue to enhance their awareness of racial justice issues. For more, read about Siena’s anti-racism resources and statement on equity and inclusion.