Sonya Renee Taylor is a poet who has won national and international spoken-word slams, an author, and an activist who uses art as a vehicle for social justice. When founding a digital media and education company, The Body is Not An Apology, she created her own title: radical executive officer. On February 27, Taylor shared with Concord Academy students, faculty, and staff how her business began as an online movement to promote body positivity. She also advocated for what she calls “radical self-love” as a way to change the world.
The Body is Not An Apology began as a conversation between Taylor, who embraces the descriptions “black, fat, neurodivergent, and queer,” and a friend who has a disability. Each admitted how accustomed they were for apologizing for aspects of themselves. Their talk led Taylor to write a poem called “The Body is Not An Apology,” yet the more she performed it, the more she had to reckon with ways in which she was not living the message she was sharing.
Her business began on Facebook when, after gathering the courage to post a selfie she had been hesitant to share, Taylor found herself leading a support group. When others approached her with ideas, she embraced them. Eventually, she created a digital magazine and community-building platform connecting the notion of radical self-love with intersectional social justice. The business developed “because I was willing to listen as opportunities kept unfolding,” Taylor says. “Every time something new offered itself, I said yes.” She advised students to be open to unexpected opportunities with honesty, empathy, and vulnerability.
Taylor spoke about the need to counter “body terrorism,” which she described as the systems that perpetuate racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia. Individuals can take personal actions to help eradicate inequality, injustice, violence, and oppression, she suggested, and to explain them, she offered four powerful poems.
Her advice: First, smile, and acknowledge others authentically. Second, come alive to what you love. “The greatest gift you will ever receive is letting the world teach you how to be delighted,” Taylor said, because the mechanisms that preserve the status quo rely on disconnection and, in contrast, “inspired people change stuff.”
Third, banish the binary, the false constraints that constrict ways of being in the world and creative thinking. “If you find yourself against the hard edges of your own beliefs, press a little, then press a little further” Taylor said. “Expand what’s possible.”
Finally, forgive yourself, for everything you did wrong or failed to do. “I invite you today, as your mighty, personal act of revolution,” Taylor said, “to practice this idea of radically loving yourself, loving yourself in a way that defies a world that tells you every single day that you should not.”
Although the Covid-19 pandemic prevented Concord Academy alumnae/i from returning to campus, it did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm for reconnecting with classmates, faculty and staff, and fellow CA graduates as part of the school’s first Virtual Reunion. More than 225 alumnae/i joined via videoconference as CA hosted three special reunion programs, the annual Alumnae/i Association Assembly, and 13 virtual class gatherings for reunion classes over four days in early June.
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In Concord Academy’s 98th year, Commencement didn’t exactly resemble the annual ceremony we’re accustomed to. The Covid-19 pandemic may have kept the 98 honorees from physically attending the ceremony, but their presence was felt. A mixture of prerecorded video and live remarks and student recognition for diplomas allowed CA to preserve many of the hallmarks that distinguish the school’s graduation ceremony. And Ambassador Samantha Power, by livestream, offered words of wisdom for the class of 2020.
This spring, much of the world stopped. This historic moment required CA to adapt quickly (one of our strengths, as the chameleon teaches us), and we have benefited from being guided by our mission during a time of fear, sorrow, and great uncertainty. Learn about how CA is maintaining community and mission across physical distance.