Kente Cloth

By Meghan Byrnes and Morgan Brang

Managing Editor for Production and Assistant Managing Editor

Diversity is present throughout the world, including here at Jamesville-DeWitt High School. It is one of the things our school takes pride in, and the students and staff work hard to make J-DHS a comfortable environment for all. Kente Cloth, a character education program designed for seniors from different cultures, is a perfect example of how our school community embraces everybody. In fact, J-DHS is the only school in the United States that actually runs a Kente Cloth program. It has become a historical organization at our school, one that the many people who are involved appreciate greatly.

Kente Cloth was created to give students from all cultures an opportunity to talk about issues in the community. Specifically, the meetings often focus on certain struggles of African Americans today, mainly because the base of the group is made up of African American students. Kente Cloth is led by Assistant Principal Will Dowdell who began the program at J-DHS 14 years ago. “We talk about people who really help to bring African Americans and other cultures to the table,” said Mr. Dowdell. This means that Kente Cloth members’ discussions often go beyond the typical history class curriculum, because they explore more controversial figures and ideas.

Senior Jason Klaiber attends meetings and takes notes, because he is the designated reporter for the program. “At the meetings, either a speaker comes in or Mr. Dowdell talks about issues in the community,” said Klaiber. A speaker comes to the Kente Cloth meetings once a week for a 12-week period during the year. Senior and president of Kente Cloth, Chidera Joseph, is responsible for meeting with Mr. Dowdell to go over the schedule of speakers. It is important for the members to meet a variety of speakers and community members. When there is no speaker, Mr. Dowdell sparks conversations about people and groups who were involved in the Civil Rights movement, but are not normally talked about in class. “Kente Cloth teaches a lot about African American history and minority history in America from a viewpoint and from different leaders who are not taught in our classrooms here at J-DHS,” added Mr. Dowdell. The goal of the program, according to Mr. Dowdell,  is to make the members feel good about themselves and their historical backgrounds so that others can feel good about them, too.

Students join the organization for many reasons, but one of the most common is family tradition. Because the program has been around for over a decade, a lot of the current members learned about Kente Cloth through their older siblings. “My older sister had been in it and she told me that it was a really good school thing to be a part of,” said senior Cameron Buck about joining Kente Cloth. Similarly, senior Sam Williams has two older siblings who participated in the program and emphasized the importance of the message that Kente Cloth sends. Both Buck and Williams enjoy listening to the speakers’ inspirational stories and passing on their important message. Joseph was also inspired to join by her older brother, but her interest in the program goes much farther than that. “For that 30 minutes, we can come together and put all differences aside and just listen to the speaker,” said Joseph. However, for senior Rasheed Baker, joining was not about maintaining tradition. Baker wanted to learn more about his culture and do so by spending time with fellow members.

One of the most important parts of the program is the separate graduation held for Kente Cloth participants. “We hold our own graduation ceremony the day before the big graduation and it is called a right of passage ceremony,” said Mr. Dowdell. A special scarf is imported from Ghana for the members. During the school graduation, the members of Kente Cloth wear these scarves over their gowns. Kente Cloth is a program that started out very small, with only eight people at the first graduation over 14 years ago. Last year, Mr. Dowdell said there were over 500 people at the graduation ceremony which included Kente Cloth participants, family members, and observers from around the country. It has been and continues to be a place for students to feel involved and comfortable with their culture.