Alumnus Perspective: Joanne Debrah ’97 P’20, Moses Brown Alumni Association

Quaker Values and the Moses Brown of Today

By Joanne Debrah ’97 P ’20

When I reflect on my time at MB, Meeting for Worship has been and will continue to be an experience I value. As a freshman, it felt foreign to me but it was part of our routine, so I followed suit. I remember participating in a Quaker Seminar class, unpacking the Quaker values. We learned about the importance of stillness, how and why silence is utilized, and the fact that there is an Inner Light within everyone that keeps us connected. I did not fully understand the theology, but the idea of stillness resonated with me.

As I matured, I found myself utilizing silence to center myself. This soon became a common practice. In the process, I gained an awareness of my ability to truly hear what others were saying or, in some cases, grappling with what they were saying particularly when our views did not align. Two people can find common ground when they are actively listening to gain understanding. Throughout my adult life as well as on my journey to become an educator, this practice has sustained me on difficult days, opened doors to amazing opportunities, and helped me cultivate some life-changing friendships.

I later watched my daughter, Renina ’20, blaze her path at Moses Brown. While some of our experiences mirrored, others were vastly different. At times, it was difficult to watch her navigate this unfamiliar terrain, but she found her tribe and went on to find her way. Upon graduating in June 2020, Renina learned to honor the value she carries in her invisible backpack. More importantly, she learned to use her voice, particularly in spaces where some hoped she would remain silent.

Staying connected to MB was an easy choice for me. I felt it was important to be a thread in its constantly growing tapestry. The school’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic Plan is a prime example. While DEI exists as buzz words in some circles, when asked to truly be reflective and start this work by unpacking its history, MB stepped up to the challenge, a challenge that is still unfolding in many ways. I would be remiss if I did not mention that my dear friend and classmate Stephanie Ogidan Preston ’97 labored over much of this introspective work. From facilitating difficult conversations to examining what an inclusive community not only looks but feels like, as well as offering innovative practices that better serve all the members of the MB community, change is underway as a direct result of her efforts.

As this work continues, a variety of perspectives must be at the table. By staying connected to the Moses Brown community, it allows Renina and me to honor the foundation that has been laid here, contributing to the cultivation of a space where inclusivity is not something folks manage but rather organically felt by all.

Joanne Debrah ’97 is the Assistant Director of Student Outreach & Support Services at Providence College. She is also the mother of MB alumna Renina Wynn ‘20, now a student at Wheaton College. Joanne is a member of Moses Brown’s Board of Trustees, the MBAA Board and Executive Committee, MB’s Development Committee, the Class of 1997 – 25th Reunion Committee. In addition, she represents the MBAA on the school’s All-School Diversity Committee.