An LGBTQ activist, author, performer, and educator, Philip McAdoo has a long list of credentials and accomplishments to his name. But, he told an audience of Rivers parents at a Monday evening roundtable discussion, it was a much more personal experience that really brought all his work into focus.
“I got better at my job,” he told the group, “when I became a parent.”
The road to fatherhood was not a simple one for McAdoo and his partner, who adopted their son at a time when same-sex couples hoping to adopt faced numerous hurdles in their home state of Georgia. McAdoo shared that journey, and other stories from a long and varied career, with students at a morning all-school meeting on Monday. With warmth, approachability, and good humor, McAdoo conveyed serious points about inclusion, equity, and the importance of being an ally.
He told the students about the role basketball played in his life. Growing up in Chapel Hill, in the shadow of basketball powerhouse UNC, it was seemingly inevitable that he’d pick up the sport. “Basketball saved me, in a way,” he said. He eventually went on to play JV at Chapel Hill. The game insulated him from some of the worst fallout of growing up gay in the south, while at the same time putting him in a position to challenge certain stereotypes. “You could use sports as an equalizer,” he said. At the same time, he had to contend with comments like “You’re pretty good—for a gay guy.”
McAdoo’s day-long visit to campus also included a session with the students involved in the Upper School musical, Legally Blonde. McAdoo, who has performed on Broadway in The Lion King and Rent, came to rehearsal and shared stories of inspirational teachers and the challenges of landing lead roles as a black actor in college. John Bower, director of DEI for the Middle School and musical director for the show, said, “Perhaps what most effectively caught the students’ attention was when McAdoo recalled walking through Harlem one afternoon, consoling Idina Menzel after she wasn’t cast in a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. It goes to show that even Queen Elsa herself has had her share of rejection!”
At the evening event, parents gathered to hear McAdoo speak and to ask questions pertaining to gender, race, equity, and inclusion. McAdoo urged parents to listen and support, and to have conversations that might not always be comfortable. One parent expressed concern about the difficulty of making systemic progress around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the challenge of bringing more community members into the conversation. McAdoo, who’s spent a lifetime working to move the needle on DEI, acknowledged that change isn’t always easy and that the efforts might at times feel like “preaching to the choir.”
But even incremental change, he said, is important, as schools work to become environments where all students feel safe, heard, and valued. “There are lots of little things we can do,” he said, “to make sure kids are ok.”