Jan 302014
 

Hannah Donovan, of Groton; Dong Mei Sarafan, Acton; and Jessica Fu, Tiawan baked for the Baking for the Nashua Soup Kitchen on Martin Luther King DayLawrence Academy Photo

Hannah Donovan, of Groton; Dong Mei Sarafan, Acton; and Jessica Fu, Tiawan baked for the Baking for the Nashua Soup Kitchen on Martin Luther King Day

Instead of observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a day off, students at Lawrence Academy honored the spirit of the leader by committing themselves to community service projects, celebrations of diversity, and discussions about prejudice and empowerment. LA’s program began with students watching teachers and staff in a production of 8, a play based on the trial that overturned California’s Proposition 8, which had banned gay marriage in that state.

Many students then left campus to perform service at area non-profit organizations, including Loaves & Fishes, Nashua Soup Kitchen, Special Olympics, Project Linus (Blankets of Love), D’Youville Senior Home in Lowell, Margueritte’s Place in Nashua, and Nashoba Park assisted living facility.

Other students participated in a variety of cultural sessions on campus with African drummers, Eastern medicine singers and drummers, an Afro- Latin band, and traditional Cambodian, Chinese, and Irish step dancers. Current students and alumni also led topical discussions and spoken word and dance workshops.

Under the theme of “Using Art to Raise Awareness”, LA’s program began with students watching teachers and staff in a production of 8, a play based on the trial that overturned California’s Proposition 8, which had banned gay marriage in that state.

“Art comes in so many forms–music, dance, poetry, acting, writing, drawing, painting, speeches, and the list goes on,” said Director of Diversity Programs Elkinsette Clinton to begin the day. “For years, art has been used to introduce ideas, themes, struggles, inequality, equality, idealism, traditions, spirituality, friendship, family, love and unity.”

“It’s no easy task making 27 blankets, but our kids worked hard,” said Larissa Smith, who teamed up for Project Linus with students and fellow math teacher Krista Collins. “They knew they were doing something good for the community, and they had fun while they did it.”

“I went with [Spanish teacher] Jamie Sheff and eight girls to the D’Youville elder care facility in Lowell, and I spent the bulk of the day with four freshman girls who went into the experience with a bit of trepidation but took some chances,” explained English teacher Mark Haman, who led his group through visits, arts and crafts, and balloon “volleyball” with the residents.”I think all the girls would say that the day there was rewarding.”

“Rewarding” was the watchword in everyone’s experience, as the students who remained on campus watched films and participated in a variety of cultural sessions with African drummers, Eastern medicine singers and drummers, an Afro- Latin band, and traditional Cambodian, Chinese, and Irish step dancers. Current students, teachers and alumni (including Elena Beleno-Carney ’97, Kacey Schneider ’04, Matthew Green ’01, Nache Duncan ’97, Kip Bordelon ’96, and Rahmel Hobbs ’98) also led topical discussions and spoken word and dance workshops.

“Watching the documentary Chicano! was a great opportunity for students to get exposure to a part of history that is well under-studied in our classrooms. Focusing on the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, the students were able to witness how civil disobedience can be an effective way to promote change,” said history teacher Matthew Greene. “This film exposed them to a lesser known part of American history.”

With all of the program’s diverse activities in mind, Ms. Clinton said her wish was for the day’s work to continue indefinitely.

“What I hope the students take away from today is that art has the power to move people, to educate, to preserve culture, to invoke change, to provide a platform for those who are forced to remain silent, forced to live in fear because of who they are and what they believe,” she said. “I hope the students open their minds, expand their thinking, and allow themselves to become artists for change.

“And I hope they realize that their canvas is yet to be completed.”