A Message from Craig Gemmell, Head of School

A Message from Craig Gemmell, Head of School
Craig Gemmell

Dear Members of the Brewster Community, 

As an educator, I have always felt lucky that my work offers a continual supply of hopefulness. Each fall as new classes begin with bright faces arriving on campus, the atmosphere seems to exude optimism. As commencement exercises draw to a close, we typically enter that refreshing season of contented pause, steeped in happy recollections of the past year before getting swept up in the excitement of planning for the next. But, of course, this spring has been anything but typical, and this last week has been like no other. This June 1st offers no contented pause. Rather, I find myself wrestling with the uncertainties wrought by a global pandemic and overwhelmed by the violence enacted on the Black community and the systemic racism that fuels it— the former a new scourge and the latter one that has plagued this country from its founding. Like so many of you, I imagine, I am struggling to feel hopeful. 

On Hope and Clarity
It is, however, my duty as an educator to remain hopeful. Focusing on values and action helps me—and I think others—do just that. In the spirit of taking nothing for granted, of making no assumptions, and of leading with utmost clarity, I want to state that we at Brewster Academy unambiguously condemn racism, white supremacy, and all systems and structures that dehumanize and devalue the lives of people of color. The deadly acts of violence against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are visible to the world now because of new technologies, but these are not new horrors. Many of us are seeing this inhumanity directly for the first time through these video clips, and the accompanying shock, confusion, pain, and anger are overwhelming. Yet others in our community have known the terror and rage of racial injustice up close; they are seeing these horrors again. There’s less confusion, more confirmation, and thus more intense pain. Maintaining any sense of hope requires having faith in the capacities of people and institutions and communities to learn and enact change. Brewster has been and is committed to both.

On History
In 1887 when John Brewster endowed the town academy in his will, he articulated its humane and democratic values. He wrote: “no restriction shall be placed upon any person desiring to attend and receive instruction from [Brewster Academy] on account of his or her age, sex, or color, provided only he or she is of good moral character.” I am continually proud of this legacy. Our focus at Brewster is on developing young adults of “good moral character,” but we can never be complacent about how best this work is to be done. Having good moral character in the 21st century means understanding one’s own suite of privileges, understanding the systems of oppression in operation in this country and beyond, and being committed to the principles of social and economic equity and justice. Enough is enough. We need to ensure that the curriculum in all its forms (academic, SEL, residential, artistic, and athletic) supports this core character development and also teaches our students the importance of engaged civic responsibility. We also need to ensure that our faculty reflects the diversity of our student body more broadly. We have been and are committed to these actions. 

In truth, I’m more than merely proud of Brewster’s historical rooting in humane values and current actions. I’m comforted by them—comforted because though I am of course wildly privileged given my gender and race and occupation, I grew up in a decidedly different world. My grandfather, who lived next door and participated significantly in my upbringing, was a policeman and espoused hateful racial epithets regularly. I remember my young feelings of upset, knowing that my beloved grandfather was being cruel to a portion of the world neither he nor I really knew. As I came of age, I both asked him to stop sharing his hateful thoughts and quietly vowed to live differently. I will continue to live and lead differently at Brewster. 

On Education, Possibility, and Progress
American playwright and professor Anna Deavere Smith, commenting on the protests, remarked: “… if there is any good news here, it is the evidence about how education … over the last two decades has increased people’s awareness of one another and people’s awareness of black culture ….” Educational institutions are a critical part of maintaining and improving upon our democracy. They offer hope.

Tackling the challenges of COVID-19 and racism—two daunting scourges—is anything but simple, but there must be some commonality in our approach. Both demand that we act with kindness and respect to individuals and also to the needs of the wider community. We have to see others, hear others, and we have to think about what our communities need to heal and remain healthy. I pray that we can all work together to render Brewster yet more capable of both being a nurturing community for all and modeling for other communities what a true, deep, and abidingly inclusive community looks like. 

On Action
We need to act and we need to come together. Below are a few suggestions for actions we can take in the coming days and weeks of summer. 

  1. If you are in the Wolfeboro area on Friday, join us at 5 p.m. on the sidewalk adjacent Lamb Green for a socially distant, meditative demonstration to acknowledge and stand in solidarity against the violence and racial injustice that has been committed on Black and Brown bodies and communities. Masks are mandatory. Please reach out to Melissa Lawlor (melawlor@brewsteracademy.org) for details. 
  2. Educate yourselves and engage in dialogue with your family. Four years ago my own family read (and listened to) Ta Nahesi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Coates contextualizes the history of America’s systemic racism through a powerful personal narrative that was accessible and illuminating to our teenage boys. I also recommend 13th by Ava DuVernay. This film explores the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration and elevated our collective awareness about these interrelated issues. 
  3. Talk with each other.  Discuss potential changes you, and we, can make now and in the future to ensure that Brewster becomes a shining example for how institutions of privilege use that privilege to fight for the justice that we need to see in our world. I welcome your ideas.


Writing to you all offers me hope. Thank you.


Craig Gemmell
Head of School


Illustration created by a local artist. The grey background images represent the harmless acts black victims were doing before being killed. The names represented are some of the many black people who have been killed unjustly. The hoodie is filled with BLM slogans and some of the last words from these victims.

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