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Dennis Manning

A message from Headmaster Dennis Manning, sent June 4, 2020.

Dear Norfolk Academy Family,

I closed our end of year faculty meetings this week by surveying a challenging national backdrop — a pandemic and self-isolation for 2 1/2 months, an economic contraction of historic severity, and 40 million souls relegated to the ranks of the unemployed. I have been thinking for some time how long our daunting challenges will persist.

Suddenly those concerns, I told the faculty, have retreated. A white police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man, George Floyd, and pressing the life out of him, has leapt into our national consciousness. This reprehensible act has also loosed a torrent of emotion, anger, and pain borne of generational racism, injustice, and deprivation. We have seen images of peaceful protest that are a stirring demonstration of our First Amendment right of peaceable assembly, and, harrowingly, images of violence, destruction, and looting that unite all of us in revulsion. George Floyd’s killing is the most recent example of inhumanity against black people in a nation still haunted by slavery and its consequences.

Norfolk Academy, like most American institutions of such longevity, has a complex history. An 1863 lithograph on display in the Massey Center shows our school building in downtown Norfolk having been seized and occupied by Union troops, re-purposed as a hospital. We do not have much in the way of 18th or even 19th century archival material. In a better-documented 20th century chapter, Norfolk Academy did not integrate until several years after Massive Resistance and the desegregation of the Norfolk public school system. There is no revising this history. We need to continue to summon a determination to do better by and for all, but particularly for our black students, alumni, and community members.

In the past few days I have heard from several of our students and alumni. While realizing that I am an imperfect messenger, I want you to know we are united with you. While we acknowledge that not all of us can really share your pain, we do share your resolve to help lead our community, our region, our state, and our nation to a better place. One of our graduates reminded me: our school’s mission calls us “to prepare students to become ultimately useful and responsible citizens of a democracy... [and that we must] strive to make them aware of their role in creating a just society.”

Our mandate could not be clearer. We must help our students understand the history that underpins these events, the ways they can make a difference as citizens, and their powerful ability to create a just society. These aspirations stem directly from our school’s mission – it has ever been our purpose to prepare children with an active social consciousness and conscience, and a deep, abiding love of their fellow man. But there is more in front of us, more to accomplish. Our school’s mission has never seemed more important or critical.

As adults we will not wait for the next generation to address these challenges. We are listening, we are learning, and we are acting with renewed conviction. We will intensify and sharpen one of the central focuses of our recently launched Strategic Plan that calls on us to advance an appreciation of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the life, programs, and curriculum of our school. In the days and weeks ahead, we will turn to our student diversity groups, our student and faculty leaders, and our school counselors and librarians to secure their help and input — ways we might serve our students and faculty during this challenging time, advance their understanding, provide them support. We will work with our long-standing partner, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, and we will reach out to other community groups to continue to educate ourselves. These actions, and others to come, reflect our determination to stand with and support every person of color in our community.

I invoke the same words I used to close our final faculty meeting, words we might think of as a benediction Martin Luther King Jr. left us: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

You have our pledge that we will never accept a “starless midnight of racism.” We will hold fast to “unarmed truth” and to “unconditional love” — let those be our final words and exemplars for every child, every student in our care.

With love, respect, and reverence,

Dennis G. Manning


  • Diversity
Esther Diskin

Even before protests sparked by the death of George Floyd began to unfold across the nation, Norfolk Academy faculty were posing questions and seeking answers about how to create a school where all students experience a strong sense of belonging.

The structured inquiry in the 2019-20 academic year was part of the work of the Pluralism Committee of the school's current strategic plan, Creating a Just Society: Integrity, Leadership, and Pluralism.

The work of the Pluralism Committee, which involves 27 teachers, touched on all areas of school life, including both an examination of current practices and the potential for new initiatives. The school uses the term "pluralism" as a way of expressing the goal of listening to and including diverse voices in order to create a stronger, healthier, more caring and loving school culture.

The national movement and mobilization against racism and injustice brought even more purpose and gravity to the Pluralism Committee's work. In early June, after Headmaster Dennis Manning released a Statement to the Community, "Creating a Just Society," he asked the faculty leaders of the Pluralism Committee to present the group's work so far.

The committee chairs, who had also engaged in conversations with current students and alumni throughout June, presented an update to the headmaster and then to the directors of all three divisions.

The presentation focused on an array of initiatives that could be explored and pursued as long-term strategies.  A few highlights: 

Curricular: Align the curriculum with the school's Diversity, Equity, and Justice Statement; provide ongoing professional development to support curricular changes; measure progress toward alignment. 

Co-curricular: Look in a meaningful way at student organizations, their position in our school, and their potential to create a sense of belonging for all students. Consider programs and opportunities that help students understand and appreciate their own and others’ identities.

Outreach: Seek to recruit a more diverse faculty through a multi-year strategy and plan, increased support for new faculty, and better communication about the school and its role within the region; use the school's resources to be a forum for robust, solution-oriented discussions around key issues in Hampton Roads. 

Culture of Belonging: Enrich the school culture and environment to make all students feel more welcome; establish sensitivity/cultural competency training for faculty and students. Review and enhance programming for school assemblies, chapel, and other school rituals to create a stronger spirit and sense of belonging. In addition, Upper School Multicultural Day for the upcoming academic year will focus on social justice.

The committee closed the presentation with a question: What are the benefits of moving Pluralism initiatives forward? One answer to that question: "We more fully live our school's Philosophy: 'to prepare students to become ultimately useful and responsible citizens of a democracy and to help our students create a just society.' "

Beyond the committee's work, the school's faculty are working this summer to explore new approaches to teaching effectively about combating racism and injustice. More than 35 faculty members participated in a three-part online workshop with Dr. Liza Talusan, "Engaging in Diversity, Inclusion and Equity for Organizational Change." The workshop was organized by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS), and more than 500 teachers from schools across the state participated.

Norfolk Academy teachers who joined the workshop are planning to have an online meeting to explore how the workshop strategies could apply to Norfolk Academy. In addition, faculty and staff are pursuing summer reading related to advancing social justice and combating racism in America; the two books, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (nonfiction) and Underground Railroad (fiction) will be the springboard for professional development related to pluralism throughout the academic year and beyond.

Mr. Manning emphasized the school's long-term commitment to the work of educating teachers and students about diversity, equity, and justice. “With our strategic plan, the Board of Trustees, in partnership with the administration and faculty, is committed to this essential work and calling," he said. "We must first educate ourselves as adults in order to best prepare children, the next generation of leadership, to improve and elevate the world they are inheriting.  We must all become more responsible, moral citizens — so that together, all generations are best equipped to create a more just society.”

Mike Connors

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic eliminated traditional summer learning opportunities for the Batten Leadership Fellows, so the students found alternative ways to grow and prepare for the upcoming school year.

For four straight days in June, the students talked, listened, and learned during a virtual Purpose Summit, which aimed to build their own self-awareness, teach them a better understanding of the Fellows Programs' objectives, and get them to consider how they can create positive change.

“It made me think about how I'm going to use the rest of my time as a Fellow, and how I'm going to have an impact," said Maddie Brooks '21, a Global Health Fellow.

The Batten Leadership Program reflects Norfolk Academy's commitment to producing disciplined, civic-minded leaders who can positively create change. Students, who apply in ninth grade and remain in the program through graduation, seek solutions to real-world challenges through research and experiential learning. 

Students enter one of five sections: Chesapeake Bay Fellows engage in environmental scholarship; EDI Fellows solve problems using engineering and design; Global Affairs Fellows examine conflicts around the world; Global Health Fellows focus on public health issues; and Literacy Fellows use reading and writing to break cycles of poverty.

One regular aspect of the Program is summer travel, where students conduct hands-on fieldwork and research and find ways to help communities in need of support. Last summer, their destinations included South America, Central America, and locations around the United States. 

The pandemic made such travel impossible this summer. Instead, all 89 Fellows participated in the Purpose Summit, aided by 13 faculty directors. 

Daily sessions ran three hours. They included leadership lessons from Ross Wehner, founder of the World Leadership School, which aims to develop purpose-driven youth. They also included workshops in which students examined their own habits and social and organizational skills, then shared them with a group. 

They also included presentations from Fellows alumni: Stuart Luter '16, Pablo Vazquez Paramo '16, Elise Turrietta '16, Sebastian Singh '19, and Emma Somers '19. They offered personal anecdotes from their lives and tied them to their experiences at Academy and as Fellows.  

Mr. Vazquez Paramo told the Fellows that his mother and father were immigrants from Mexico who did not have college degrees and worked several jobs to provide for the family. Rather than feel sorry for himself, he embraced Academy's ideals of honor, respect, and integrity, and turned his circumstances into positives.

While in Upper School, he joined the soccer team. His parents could not give him rides to summer practices. So, he demonstrated the values of hard work and determination, riding his bike from home to the field and back - 6 miles both ways. 

He graduated this spring from Yale University.

“Look at your hearts," he told the Fellows. "What is your adversity and how are you going to react to that?"

Matt Wetmore '21, a Chesapeake Bay Fellow, admits he went into the Summit disappointed that summer travel wasn't possible. He ended up learning about himself and gaining motivation for the upcoming year. "You need to know yourself before you can know and lead others," he said.  

Toward the close of the summit, students offered goals for the upcoming school year. Many centered around how they could help those outside NA. Global Affairs Fellows intend to partner with businesses and groups severely impacted by the pandemic, like migrant farmers. Literacy Fellows aim to publish a book about the St. Paul's Revitalization Project, which is dramatically changing an area near downtown Norfolk. 

“Our first goal is to develop a relationship with a local community organization and build a consistent partnership for service and collaboration, and we hope to have more local community outreach and to develop a connection with a local service partner," said Leila Jamali '21, a Global Health Fellow.

Mr. Sean Wetmore, director of the Batten Leadership Program, was pleased that the vast majority of students said they gained a clearer sense of the program's purpose from the summit, and better understand how they fit in. Working together over the summer will also make collaboration easier during the school year, he added.

“It ended up being very powerful," he said.

Maddie agreed. She's eager to start problem solving with her fellow students.

“It made the whole Fellows program a little closer," she said.

Please read more about the Batten Leadership Program



  • Batten Leadership Program
Mike Connors

We have compiled a list of fiction books suited for students and adult readers that discuss Black history, current events, and ways to fight racism and injustice. This is one step in our commitment to work for justice, outlined by Headmaster Dennis Manning in his Headmaster's Statement — Creating a Just Society, sent to our community on June 4, and reflected in multiple aspects of the school's strategic plan, Creating a Just Society: Integrity, Leadership, and Pluralism.

The books are recommendations from a variety of sources, including our school librarians and faculty, media sources such as the New York Times (a list created by Ibram Kendi), Smithsonian Magazine, and Coretta Scott King Book Awards.

Books are broken down by appropriate school levels, though some may be suitable for a wider range. Some for younger children are poetry or picture books. The links provide reviews, interviews, and additional information about the authors and books. 

Books with asterisks are available as e-books from the Batten Library Sora Collection. Although the library is closed because of the pandemic, Middle and Upper School students may log in with their school email addresses to access these titles.

Upper School

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo*

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Invisible Man by Ralph W. Ellison

Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993. The Bluest Eye, published in 1970was her first novel. Song of Solomon (1977) won the National Book Critics Circle Award and Beloved (1987) won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a film in 1998.)

Monster by Walter Dean Myers*

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

Ink Knows No Borders: Poetry of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience, edited by Patrice Vecchione*

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (This novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, is also a summer reading choice for Norfolk Academy faculty and staff.)

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Black Enough by Ibi Zoboi*


Middle School

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Parable of the Sower  by Octavia E. Butler

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

The Parker inheritance by Varian Johnson

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee*

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Lower School

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

The Blacker the Berry: Poems by Joyce Carol Thomas

Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Midnight Teacher:  Lily Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes

IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, and Carolyn Choi

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Can I Touch Your Hair?  Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

What Is Given from the Heart by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o

The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome

Say Something! by Peter Reynolds

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

You Matter by Christian Robinson

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

We have previously posted a list of nonfiction books and news articles and websites that address racism and Creating a Just Society.

  • Diversity
Lamar Shambley
  • Alumni News
Mike Connors

While a student at Norfolk Academy, Lamar Shambley '06 cultivated a love for the Spanish language and a desire to experience foreign cultures.

That love propelled Mr. Shambley to start a nonprofit organization, Teens of Color Abroad, whose mission is to provide high school students of color with foreign travel and enriching language learning opportunities.

As with so many organizations, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has greatly altered Teens of Color Abroad's immediate plans. But instead of being frustrated, Mr. Shambley has pushed forward, finding alternative ways to spread his mission.

“There are students out there who still deserve these engaging, educational opportunities," Mr. Shambley said.

Mr. Shambley grew up in Brooklyn in New York City. He moved with his mother to Hampton Roads when he was in middle school, and started at NA in eighth grade, after two summers participating in Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy, an academic enrichment program designed to prepare area students for success in high school and beyond.

He participated in theater at NA, and enjoyed learning from Dance Master Elbert Watson and Mr. Ron Newman. He also connected with Spanish teacher Audrey Brinkley, whose support got him to “fall in love with the language," he said. 

From Norfolk Academy, Mr. Shambley advanced to the College of William and Mary. Fortified by Ms. Brinkley's encouragement, he knew he wanted to expand his love of the language by studying abroad. As a sophomore, he participated in a two-week medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip “transformed my world view and I knew I wanted more," he said.

As a junior, Mr. Shambley studied in Seville, Spain, for about six months. He was surrounded by students from many other countries, and built strong relationships both with them and Spaniards, who were curious about his experiences as a Black American. “Absolutely changed my life," he said. 

After graduating college, Mr. Shambley started teaching math for a program called Uncommon Schools. He enjoyed giving back to students, but still felt a tug toward his passion. After five years teaching math, he was able to become a Spanish teacher.

More than four-fifths of Uncommon Schools students are considered economically disadvantaged. The program serves communities in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and has several locations in Brooklyn, where Mr. Shambley taught. That borough has hundreds of thousands of Black residents, according to census estimates, and Mr. Shambley said his classes were predominantly Black.

One day, he asked his classes whether they were interested in studying abroad. Almost every one of his roughly 80 students said yes. From his own experiences, he knew the benefits of such travel. He also knew from the statistics that few if any of them would enjoy that opportunity; according to the most recent Open Doors Report, which provides information on international study, only about 6 percent of U.S. college students who studied abroad in 2017-18 were Black. The report does not calculate high school study. 

Mr. Shambley had found his calling. He left full-time teaching in 2018, and in 2019, he won Diversity Abroad's Innovation Competition, in which finalists pitch creative programs that advance inclusive excellence in global education.

He knew nothing about how to launch a nonprofit. But he dedicated himself to researching, networking, making contacts, and asking as many questions as possible. Through that hard work, he founded Teens of Color Abroad, built a team of support, started raising needed money, and created the framework for international study for New York City-area high school students.

One of his contacts was a director from Centro MundoLengua, the school in Seville where he studied in college. The director loved Mr. Shambley's project, and they were able to schedule an initial class of 15 students to travel there. They planned to depart this month.

Then the pandemic hit, canceling much travel between the United States and Europe, including that session. 

Mr. Shambley was saddened. But instead of brooding, he explored other ways to provide for students. He started hosting virtual panels, in which people of color speak about their travel experiences. He developed a blog on the Teens of Color Abroad website that accomplishes a similar goal - keeping students “excited for when the world will open up for them." 

In the next few weeks, Teens of Color Abroad will partner with another organization, NaTakallam, to give students the opportunity, virtually, to learn Arabic and participate in group dialogues with Middle Eastern refugees and other displaced people. Participants won't need to pay, since fundraising has successfully sponsored 50 students. 

Mr. Shambley is working toward launching the initial Seville trip in summer 2021.

Ms. Brinkley is retired from teaching, but has kept in touch with Mr. Shambley; she even met him when she was in New York last fall. 

During that reunion, she could see the fire in his eyes as he talked about Teens of Color Abroad. He is devoted to providing opportunities for students who have not been included in these experiences, she said.

“He's making dreams come true for others. He's giving back and I think that's what's important," Ms. Brinkley said. 

Learn more about Teens of Color Abroad by visiting its website. You can also keep up to date through @TOCAworld on Twitter, teensofcolorabroad on Instagram, and @teensofcolorabroad on Facebook. 








  • Alumni
  • Breakthrough at the Academy
  • Diversity