Penn Charter student leaders Ainyae Holmes and Pierce Hodges with Supreme Dow, founder of the Black Writers Museum in Germantown. Dow was a keynote speaker at the all-day conference.

Penn Charter’s inaugural Diversity Conference brought together 150 area students for an all-day event designed to give young leaders tools to be ambassadors for community building and social justice.

The Cheryl Irving Student Diversity Conference was named for the late Cheryl O. Irving, a Chestnut Hill resident, Penn Charter teacher and champion of diversity.

“It is our hope that after your conversations and experiences today, you all will go back to your schools empowered with resources and make great strides to promote the beauty of diversity,” 12th-grader Pierce Hodges told students assembled in Penn Charter’s Meeting Room on Saturday, March 2.

Hodges and classmate Ainyae Holmes conceived of the conference 10 months ago and worked to develop the goals and programming for the day in collaboration with Antonio Williams, PC’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and Upper School teachers Ruth McGee and Shahidah Kalam Id-In. The students and teachers all worked their networks to build attendance. In addition to students from Germantown Friends and Springside Chestnut Hill, attendees came from nine other independent schools.

Reflecting on the conference afterward, Holmes said the turnout and the content of the discussions gave her hope.

“We aren’t alone in caring about these issues,” Holmes said. “When so many people showed up, it made me realize that we have many allies who want to help.”

Students arrived early on Saturday morning and finished the day with dinner and dancing. In between, the conference included affinity groups, panel discussions and workshops on a variety of topics, including race and identity, criminal justice reform, media representation of people of color and how to discuss difficult topics. In addition to Hodges and Holmes, students developed the content and led many of the workshops and affinity groups.

“I am impressed with these student leaders and their willingness to focus on issues that matter to them and to society,” said Darryl J. Ford, Penn Charter Head of School. “This is an important day of conversation and understanding, and that’s what schools are all about.”