Brunswick Middle Schoolers welcomed alumnus Daniel Taylor ’11 and psychologist, performer, and poet Dr. Michael Fowlin for a virtual assembly in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Wednesday, January 20.
Taylor spoke to students about the importance of identity and perspective in a young man’s development and growth as an individual — stemming from an experience he had as an eighth grader while at a friend’s house from Brunswick.
At the time, Taylor was struggling with different parts of his identity — he was overly competitive (borderline angry); he was severely dyslexic; and he was Black.
“These all made it difficult for me to feel like I belonged,” Taylor said. “And I viewed them as burdens instead of potential strengths.”
After walking into the house, Taylor caught the eye of a five-year-old girl — a visiting relative of his friend — who could not stop staring at him until her mother embarrassingly dragged her out of the room.
Taylor’s friend attempted to diffuse the situation by saying, “I think you’re the first Black person she’s ever seen in her house or around her family.”
But he followed up with a life-altering, yet simple question: “How does that make you feel?”
It was the first time a white classmate had asked Taylor a question about his Black identity and his race — the first time someone his age had tried to seek and gain perspective.
“That moment and many moments going forward — which took a community of teachers, friends, and family members inquiring about how I was feeling and trying to understand my identity — helped me turn those aspects of my identity that I viewed as negatives into superpowers.”
Taylor went on to star on the soccer field at Brown University and as a professional soccer player and has since started three of his own businesses in a successful entrepreneurial career.
He left the Brunswick community with this request: “Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Don’t be afraid to be an ally. Don’t be afraid to use the things from the uniqueness of your identity — as they might become part of your superpowers going forward and enable you to be your full and true self.”
Fowlin, who has an undergraduate degree in psychology from Evangel University and a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from Rutgers University, shared his one-man presentation “You Don’t Know Me Until You Know Me,” taking the audience of Middle School students and faculty on an experiential and personal journey during which they reexamined core precepts taught to them from as early as first grade.
“To varying degrees, we all wear masks. We are conditioned to hide our true selves, out of fear of being rejected or judged,” he said. “We are taught to devalue or ignore our pain, as if its utility is better served hidden than exposed.”
Fowlin revealed two personal stories of sadness, depression, and loneliness — when he didn’t want to live anymore — and was saved by the love and comforting words of another.
“I didn’t realize that I was meant to survive beyond myself to help other people who need to heal,” he said.
“Young men, you are not alone. And I know it’s hard as a boy to open up and let the vulnerability be real. But your mask isn’t suiting you. There are students here right now who need your kindness, who need you to be an upstander, and who need you to continue to live.”