On Monday, January 21, the entire Lawrence Academy community actively celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
LA students, teachers, staff, and alumni facilitated and attended workshops, watched films, and participated in community activities designed to both honor and reflect on the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
“Martin Luther King Jr. used the following quotation on multiple occasions: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ MLK Day affords us the opportunity to understand the universe King describes and to try to take our place in it,” said Head of School Dan Scheibe of the day’s activities. “That place can be found through seeking our own sense and voice of justice. It can be found through open-hearted listening.
“It can be found through experiencing our own strengths and weaknesses with the full support of an interdependent community like ours.”
Alumni Kip Bordelon ’96, Yen Le ’08, Zaneta Pinkney ’07, and Taylor Sele ’02 (right), joined current students Patrick Burns ’13, Briana Freso ’14, Janaijah Lloyd ’13, Summer Love ’13, and Jasre’ale Williams ’14 and faculty members Khalid Bashir, Elena Beleno Carney ’97, Brian Feigenbaum, and Kacey Schneider ’04 to lead activities and discussions designed to involve the community in understanding and personalizing Dr. King’s dream.
Beyond the campus and its classrooms, some students also spent the day engaged in community service.
“This year, for the first time, we were able to add eight service projects to the day,” said Elkinsette Clinton, LA’s director of diversity programs. “Some are on campus and others are off campus working with the elderly and the homeless, as well as with children that are developmentally and physically disabled.”
“Today, we remind ourselves why it is important to give back to our communities and share experiences that can unite us,” added Clinton. “It has been great to watch students, faculty and alumni come together to plan such an exciting day of activities.”
Additionally, Clinton suggested that each participant in the day’s activities should feel empowered by the realization that King was “just an average man who did big things.”
At the morning’s opening assembly, Sele, who during his time at LA was named the ISL’s football MVP and went on to play for the Indianapolis Colts, shared his thoughts about the importance of this day and reminded everyone that the occasion was doubly historic, as Barack Obama also took his second oath of office as president.
“It is noteworthy that he will take the oath on two bibles, Abraham Lincoln’s and Dr. Martin Luther King’s,” he said.
Sele, too, encouraged everyone to reflect on the great things that have been accomplished and to “open your minds to the possibility of being empowered as you go about your day.”
Below is a brief review of some of the workshops that took place on the LA campus…
Kip Bordelon’s session, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Unplugged” touched on the elements and positions of Dr. King that are less known (and are often misinterpreted), while also exploring MLK’s popular positions and principles beyond their more widely accepted perceptions.
“From the presentation today, I hope [the students] learned and understood the true vision of Martin Luther King,” said Bordelon, who challenged students to look beyond popular notions of history. “The popular perception is that he was a man of peace and justice – and all of those things are true.
“But he really was more than just that. He did so much more with respect to the sacrifices he made, the planning involved [in his movement] and I just wanted these students to get a true vision of the national icon that we celebrate.
“He wasn’t just [about] non-violence, he gave his life to more than just racial equality, he fought for labor, he fought against poverty, he fought for fair education, and fair housing…he was a man for all people,” he said.
Building Community Through Dance
With a nod toward the revolutionary minds of those who used dance to move the world forward, the “Dance Workshop” included a modern day twist as it sought to teach those in the Lawrence community that they can become activists, not only through their words or deeds, but through their bodies’ movements.
“Martin Luther King wanted us to be unified and the song we picked [to dance to] was ‘Hope’ by Faith Evans and Twista, which basically says we’re hopeful for today,” explained Jasre’ale Williams, who helped lead students and faculty through a specially choreographed dance alongside Patrick Burns. “If we have hope, like Martin Luther King had hope, we can make this world a better place, and we can [come] together as a community.”
“I thought Patrick and Jas did a fantastic job,” said Brian Feigenbaum of his students’ performance. “They prepared their material and taught with clarity, purpose and passion.
“As they have been excellent students of mine for years, I am already extremely proud of them, and grateful for the opportunity to work with such fine young people.
“[Today] only reinforced what I already knew about their capabilities.”
It’s not a big deal. Or is it?
Khalid Bashir and Elena Beleno Carney’s workshop “Microaggressions: Is not a big deal…is it?” shed light on microaggressions (commonplace indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, which carry hurtful and derogatory meaning) and how they cut across all social identities including race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability, status, and socio-economic class.
“It is difficult…on a daily basis to feel like there’s a space to have these discussions,” said Bashir of MLK Day and his session’s place in the MLK holiday program. “This focuses it.
“I definitely think it will be useful to the [students],” added Bashir. “I think, even through the different exercises, we had some students just realizing that, ‘I don’t really choose to be identified by these standards.’
“So I hope that this extra added awareness or consciousness allows them to feel a little more comfortable to speak up when they’re with their friends or even if they just have the idea in their mind when they hear something that makes them uncomfortable,” he said.
“I really loved the Microagression session,” explained Alexandre N’Djemba ’15. “The workshop was perfect for MLK day because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. always talked about equality and understanding, and the workshop taught me that…thinking about what you are going to say makes a world of difference for people.”
Developing Leadership Skills While in High School & Conflict Management
Zaneta Pickney ’07 led two different sessions during the day and in the morning talked with students about developing their leadership potential.
“You don’t have to live with the status quo necessarily,” said Zaneta. “I talked with them about how leadership is seeing what can be changed and actively taking the right steps to make it happen.”
Later in the day, Zaneta, who is a paralegal at a law firm in Boston, also conducted a session about conflict management.
“Tolerance, respect, patience, and understanding were all terms Martin Luther King used in many of his speeches. But are we all practicing and expressing these qualities today?” she asked students in a noticeably calm, eloquent, but passionate tone.
Zaneta engaged the students in both of her sessions in lively and thoughtful discussion and left with them several nuggets of wisdom that echoed the sentiments of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“You can make a difference,” she said. “Reach out. Be an active member of the community.
“Help others to feel at home and make the effort to learn about those around you.
“Develop a sense of community and really listen to others.”
“Get some paper and a pencil. We’re going to write a poem and then share them.”
A bold statement given that the workshop was just an hour long, was filled with people who didn’t necessarily know each other well, and, perhaps most notably, was being led by two current LA students – Briana Freso and Summer Love.
By the time the hour was up, however, “there were tears,” said one student, who added, “We definitely bonded as a group.”
“Our goal,” explained Briana and Summer, “was to get people more comfortable with reciting spoken word. We wanted to make sure that everyone had fun but also learned more about poetry and the art of the spoken word.”
Interspersed among the writing prompts were video clips showing the works of some well known spoken word poets like Joshua Bennett and Miles Hodges. The group would then work quietly on their own writing, considering such topics as relationships and personal challenges.
“We also wanted the group to learn that poetry doesn’t have to be so structured and bland and that it can have a personal touch to it as well,” said the girls.
The tears the group shared were the result of the recitation of a poem one student wrote about the death of her grandmother.
“She began to cry,” said a student, “and then we all did.
“I think because we could relate to what she was saying and describing in our own way.
“It really did make all of us feel closer.”