The sanctity of birds is frequently related to their ability to fly close to the heavens and get wisdom from a different perspective. That is why I was so thrilled when Gifford “Giffy” Duminy proposed birds as our symbol of transformation at Clifton. That is what being transformed is about, being able to take on multi perspectives and be empathetic. The proposal came through the Student Diversity Committee to give the wall behind the newly refurbished Ken Mackenzie Hall a facelift. This is the wall that bore the handprints of students from 2018, that took a stand again racism and said “Racism Stops with Me”.
The irony of walls and transformation at Clifton is not lost on me. It was the “Behind the White Walls” document that invigorated the much-needed conversations around discrimination and prejudice in 2020. It also led our boys to take a stand against all forms of injustices, penning a discrimination proclamation that was unveiled during the Human Rights assembly earlier this year. As we work with the entire student body to unpack this proclamation, the intention is to have a phrase that we can all embrace as a school inscribed on the wall.
Why birds as the transformation symbol? This is a symbol of the diversity that exists in our community. The imagery of birds represents freedom, peace, hope and love. Freedom because we acknowledge that even though freedom was obtained in 1994, we still have work to do as a community of Clifton to ensure that everyone belongs. Peace means we will strive always to create and maintain an environment of peace and harmony. This is done by respecting the diversity that we have in the school. Hope – we are hopeful that the school will be better than the way we found it for future generations and love, this is done under the umbrella of love.
Why the birdbath? The school has a birdbath that is part of its heritage. The birdbath on the mural pays homage to the rich history of the school. The depicted birdbath is now a water fountain outside the Helen Joseph Library. There is also a birdbath in the quad that the mural overlooks. This imagery also speaks of community. Birds use the birdbath to cleanse themselves of the dust and quench their thirst. This speaks of the difficult and courageous conversations – there are splashes and some feathers are ruffled, some are observing from outside while others are inside the ring – but the result is shared understanding and a community that soars.
May the walls we have built around our hearts for each other come tumbling down. I hope that we come out of birdcages so they are no longer rattled but find ourselves joining in the birdbath for courageous conversations where our community is, and set ourselves free so we can fly together.