“I think it’s important for our students of color to feel they are seen and honored,” says history teacher Rich MacDonald when asked why he raised his hand and volunteered to organize Cardigan’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “For too long this country has downplayed African-American history and played up white American history.”
He and the other faculty who organized the celebration started with the theme of “Think globally, act locally,” wanting to move beyond historical lessons and philosophical discussions and instead provide students with ways in which they can take action within their own communities. The faculty also wanted to continue the celebration throughout the week, organizing shorter presentations and smaller chunks of information that were more easily digested and retained.
The week began with a Monday evening activity in which students were asked in their dorm groups to list the ways in which they have experienced and witnessed racism at Cardigan; they were then asked to identify the things that they can do to prevent racism at Cardigan. The lists they created will hang in the common rooms of the dorms, providing the boys with daily reminders of their role in ending racism.
While many national holidays are set aside to rest and relax, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is at its best a call to action, an opportunity to commit to helping the other fella and making the world a better place.
Tuesday’s activity introduced students to several artists whose works focus on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and then asked students to think about and illustrate their own dreams for the future. Students have until Monday to work on their posters with the best earning points toward Dorm Olympics.
Wednesday in Chapel, students and faculty shared in reciting excerpts from Martin Luther King’s speech “The Other America,” which he gave at Stanford University in 1967, as well as Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, which he wrote to his followers in Harlem in 1964 during his pilgrimage to Mecca.
“I was very proud of the boys who read at the celebration,” says Mr. MacDonald. “They all did a fantastic job conveying the emotion in the readings.”
Thursday’s activity took advantage of current events, giving students an opportunity to reflect on and discuss National Junior Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s recitation of her poem “The Hill We Climb,” that she shared at the presidential inauguration. Students were then asked to continue work on the dorm action plans that they started on Monday, again putting the students at the center of plans that will make Cardigan a welcoming place for people of all colors, races, genders, cultures, and backgrounds.
MLK Day celebrations ended on Friday with an activity that aimed at examining privilege. In a simple exercise students were asked to shoot crumpled pieces of paper into a trash can that varied in distance from them. Those who made it were told they would be rich and successful. Discussions in dorm groups allowed students the opportunity to build an awareness of what it means to benefit from unearned privileges and how those privileges should inform and influence their treatment of others.
While many national holidays are set aside to rest and relax, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is at its best a call to action, an opportunity to commit to helping the other fella and making the world a better place. The Cardigan community has taken a first step and hopes to continue these conversations, committing daily to the work Martin Luther King started over a half century ago.