South Fayette School District News Article

4th Uncommon Conference Unites Hundreds

April 9, 2024, marked South Fayette High School’s fourth annual Uncommon Conference, but this year the student-led event tried something new. For the first time, the event was held during the school day instead of on the weekend. This change in plans brought a standing-room only crowd of nearly 200 students and advisors, and expectations and demand for a larger venue next year. It united students and staff, primarily representing EIB and student government-related groups, from 14 schools across Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland counties.

Organized by the students in South Fayette’s SHOUT (Social Handprints Overcoming Unjust Treatment) organization, the Uncommon Conference is an opportunity to bring students together to celebrate their differences and, in doing so, recognize just how much they have in common. The event included speakers, panel discussions, art installations, dance, music, and more. The theme for 2024 was “Each of us needs all of us to become the best of us.”

“The collective efforts of our students, faculty, and staff not only made this conference a landmark event but also helped plant the seeds of change and progress within Southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Chuck Herring, South Fayette Township School District’s Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging and the co-advisor to SHOUT. “Together, all of the schools represented set a new benchmark for what we can achieve as a community united in diversity and driven by a shared commitment to making our districts more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming places.”

He went on to add, “This is such an important and impactful week in history with April 11 being the 56th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Fair Housing Rights Act of 1968. The signing of that act, along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the culmination in giving Black people first class citizenship in the United States. So, it’s that much more significant that our young people are gathering this week to show that they want to make the effort to get rid of all the -isms and -obias that plague our society. I could not have been more proud of my SHOUT kids for all of their hard work and excited for them to have had such an incredible turnout at the conference.”

The event opened with keynote speakers Emmai Alaquiva and Selecta who got the crowd involved by teaching dj (disc jockey) skills as well as how to rap by using a rap battle that included administrators and parents in attendance. Their theme focused on how Hip Hop is a metaphor for life.

A Muslim artist, Ebtehal Badawi, of Pittsburgh Builds Bridges, began and completed an art installation centered on Pittsburgh’s bridges and diversity. All conference attendees were encouraged to contribute to the artwork. 

A Religions of the World panel invited representatives from the Roman Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, and Sufi religions to share facts and misconceptions about their faiths as well as answer questions from the audience. 

Members of SHOUT then aimed to take the audience on a visual representation of the event’s theme through a gallery tour of cultural dance with interactive displays that came to life and offered lessons in Bollywood, Colombian, Hip-Hop, and African dance.   

During breaks, guests also had the opportunity to receive popular henna art tattoos and peruse cultural displays. 

In addition to South Fayette, high school students and advisors were in attendance from Aliquippa, Deer Lakes, Gateway, Hampton, McKeesport, Mt. Lebanon, Northgate, Penn Trafford, Quaker Valley, Seneca Valley, South Allegheny, Upper St. Clair, and Winchester Thurston high schools. 

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