SCOTT CLARK: A JOURNEY ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA
IS math teacher Scott Clark found himself on the adventure of a lifetime when Potomac supported his trip to South Africa during the summer of 2018. As a member of the Cultural Competence Leadership Team and as a co-advisor for the IS Student Diversity Alliance, Scott hoped to grow in his understanding of diversity issues by visiting places significant to the South African history. He also accompanied his wife – the artistic director of the Children’s Chorus of Washington – and a group of young singers to performances in churches, schools, and concert halls.
“One of my professional goals is to find new ways of actively engaging students to work across social and cultural differences,” he explains. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to practice this kind of engagement myself by immersing myself in another culture.”
Scott and the choir group traveled to a number of different places, including the cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town. He was immediately struck by the country’s great natural beauty and the openness of the people. “Everywhere we went, we found people eager to talk about their experiences and what their culture means to them,” he says. “Sometimes, we were taught traditional dances and songs from tribes we visited. Music was infused throughout the population; I was amazed at how many people could just start singing in harmony without a second thought.”
As a nature photographer, Scott also had the opportunity to capture a number of extraordinary scenes, from the animals he saw on safari to Boulders Beach, one of the only places in the world where endangered African penguins can be found in the wild. “Getting to see species I was unfamiliar with was really enriching to me,” he says.
However, there were more sobering parts of the trip, too. The shadow of apartheid was ever-present in the stories Scott heard, and he witnessed crushing poverty in some parts of Cape Town. His visit to Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, was one of the most viscerally memorable parts of his trip.
“Our guide there was a former political prisoner himself,” he recalls. “He showed us how a single room housed 50 men; each of them had to sleep on a mat on the floor. Many of the people he was imprisoned with were doctors and researchers and scientists. It was awe-inspiring to hear how, even in the awful conditions they had to live under, they managed to share their knowledge with each other and learn a lot.”
Scott was also deeply affected by a trip to Soweto, a township of Johannesburg, where student protests against a requirement for schools to use Afrikaans, a language most students of color did not speak fluently, were met with horrific police brutality, resulting in the deaths of many young people. A museum, named for Hector Pieterson – one of the first to be killed during the uprising – offered insight into this terrible time in history.
“After he was killed, someone took a picture and showed the worldwide community what had happened. That single image had a giant impact on people’s unwillingness to work with a regime that would do something like that,” Scott reflects. “It spurred a lot of people to act. Now, the museum stands as a memorial to Hector and the other children who died in the Soweto Uprising.”
Ultimately, Scott says that “the world got smaller” over the course of his journey. “I feel like I gained a far better understanding of the people who live there,” he explains. “The poverty we witnessed in some areas made me grateful for the conditions we live in, but it has also made me want to see things get better for the people who live that way – how can we help? And the universality of wanting freedom was something that really stood out when studying South African history. It’s strengthened my commitment to prioritizing inclusivity, at Potomac and beyond.”
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