More than 200 members of the St. John’s Prep community and guests filled the Dianne and Ray Carey '67 Field House for the 14th edition of the MLK legacy and awards dinner on Thursday evening. Like a drumbeat, within moments of the program’s start, a powerful and persistent theme emerged: Even a single voice matters. A lot.
Calling on attendees to work together to build a school community, a nation, and a world where all are known, valued, and loved, Head of School Ed Hardiman P’19 ’21 ’26 offered a blueprint for accomplishing as much. In so doing, he called for a mobilization of bridge-builders—someone “who doesn’t look to provoke or divide, but rather focuses on the welfare of all, how we bring ourselves together, and how we connect ourselves through what unites us.”
That certainly describes Dr. King. It also hits at the heartbeat of the evening’s honorees, Gary Cherry P’18 and St. John’s Prep English teacher Pamela Leete. Held between the MLK federal holiday and the start of Black History Month on February 1, the event recognizes recipients who have embodied Dr. King’s pursuit of fairness and equity by creating opportunities for change.
The evening’s theme of ‘the power of one’ was completely organic. As Dr. Hardiman aptly noted, no speakers collaborated or interacted in advance of approaching the podium. The student emcees (seniors Alejandro Baez Tejeda, Antonio Cavalcanti Filho, Brandon Montoya Figueroa, and Tireni Asenuga) and the students who offered reflections (Jonathan Cartright ’24, Sebastiano DiModica ’24, and Nick Mwaura ’25) set the backbeat. Director of Multicultural Affairs and Community Development (MACD) Raisa Carrasco-Vélez, Hardiman, and the night’s honorees kept the rhythm.
“I’m of the belief that one voice can make the difference, wherever you are, however small it might be, however in the minority it might be,” said Cherry, a former Federal Special Agent with the U.S. Department of Education. “It’s just a matter of using that one voice to create change—in your own individual life and in the lives of others.”
Cherry’s work supporting the Prep’s MACD office and his dedication to building diversity and multicultural life at St. John’s was recognized with the No One Walks Alone Advocacy Award, which honors a member of the extended Prep community who serves as a role model and agent of change within and beyond the school community. A native of Richmond, VA, and resident of Salem, Cherry is now a small business portfolio specialist and bank officer for Needham Bank.
TURNING UP THE VOLUME
Leete has been a steadfast supporter of the MACD office since her first day on campus six years ago, fostering an environment of inclusivity in which students come to know their unique gifts and talents, take risks, and become the best version of themselves. She received the School’s Justice & Equity Award on Thursday for her commitment to empowering all members of the Prep community, both inside and outside the classroom. In her acceptance remarks, she noted that her classroom goals are merely spokes of a more foundational wheel: Helping students find their voice.
“Obviously, our English curriculum, whether it be American Lit or something else, lends itself to opening up conversations about how we treat people and how we get information about people,” she said. “It’s about sharing stories and talking about who gets to dictate the narrative. I believe those conversations give them the language they’re going to need to have a discourse out there in the world.
“When I think of these young men sitting in a college classroom or in a meeting at work, the question is, do they have the language to have a discourse with their peers and superiors?,” she continued. “Can they hold themselves accountable for what’s coming out of their mouth and how much knowledge they have?”
Leete, a native of Medford and resident of Danvers, went on to point out that creating that type of mentor-mentee relationship inside and outside the classroom is a non-starter without the support of a compassionate and outcome-oriented administration.
“I’ve taught at other schools and this is a unique place, and that starts at the top,” she said. “Our administrators don’t want people to just ‘fit in’ at the Prep. They want people to belong here. They know how to nurture community. Our mission is to give you a sense of belonging because we need your unique set of talents and your unique perspective. There are rules and standards, but they revolve around this idea that we love you for who you are and we want to see you shine so this entire campus becomes a guiding light.”