Campus Observes Annual MLK Day With Race-Related Forums, Community Service

In annual observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the Phillips Academy community attended an array of assemblies, workshops, and community service projects “in the spirit of Dr. King.” The day’s special program, which replaced regularly-scheduled classes this past Monday, was the result of intense planning on the part of the Office of Community & Multicultural Development (CAMD) and the Martin Luther King Planning Committee, both headed by Dean of CAMD Bobby Edwards. “Every year,” Mr. Edwards said, “We seek to strike a balance between commemorating the life of Dr. King and recognizing the pertinent issues of the day. In my eyes, I think we accomplished that goal with this year’s program.” Students began the day divided into their respective clusters for a viewing of “A Place at the Table,” a video that explored issues in race and segregation through the eyes of African-American, Japanese-American, Hispanic, Irish, American Indian, gay, and lesbian high-school students. Produced by the renowned acceptance-education company Teaching Tolerance, the video offered a unique perspective into the current issues concerning minority acceptance and the history of past conflicts between races. At the conclusion of the presentation, students dispersed across campus for an in-depth discussion with their advisors about the autobiographical stories they had just seen played in the video. Though some advisees complained that the discussions did not seem to form any new dialogue, Patrick Callahan ’04 commented, “[The discussion] brought about some truly insightful comments concerning the origins of racial discrimination.” The bulk of energy put forth to create this year’s Martin Luther King Day observance, however, was invested on the myriad of faculty-sponsored workshops offered to students, who were required to attend at least one during the day. The choices ran the gamut from an analysis of Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech moderated by Instructor in Chemistry Ralph Bledsoe, to a discussion of the truth in today’s rap music offered by Instructor in English Craig Thorn, to a video discussion of socio-economic class at the Groton School led by Instructors in Spanish Jorge and Yasmin Allen. Some programs this year did not follow the traditional African-American focus normally associated with MLK day, but instead, focused on a variety of other cultures. “The Sticky Rice Project,” for example, offered an exploration into racism from an Asian-American perspective while “Racism in Germany and Europe” gave students a glimpse of racism outside the US border. Through the Academy’s Community Service office, students were also able to participate in a wide range of service projects throughout the greater Andover community, embodying Dr. King’s historic call for “people of action” across America. While girls from the Lawrence Boy’s & Girl’s Club sold baked goods in the lobby of Commons, other students traveled to local retirement homes and programs around the area. After spending the day at Hope Street, an arts-based after school program for high school students, for a discussion with program participants, Laurie Ignacio ’04 remarked that it was a “very cool experience to have a group of multiracial kids addressing racial issues head-on together.” The day was capped-off by an All-School Meeting at the Cochran Chapel. The meeting featured reflections by members of SARC, Ignacio, Acting Head of School Rebecca Chase, and Mr. Edwards. For many students and faculty, the highlight of the assembly was a reading of Dr. King’s famous “I have a Dream Speech,” performed by Mr. Bledsoe. The student body, following the speech, gave Mr. Bledsoe and Dr. King’s message a standing ovation. Instructor in Music William Thomas and the Gospelfest choir came together to offer a selection of spirituals to round out the meeting. Planning for this year’s observance of MLK Day began shortly after the conclusion of last year’s program, according to Mr. Edwards. Though he was disappointed at the lack of community participation in the 2002 program of events, Mr. Edwards commented that a combination of faculty involvement and student devotion had made this year’s event a remarkable success. Faculty contributed by moderating workshops. Student leaders also worked coordinated numerous community service projects, and others moderated workshops of their own. Hao Wang ’03 offered an examination of the experiences of detained prisoners in Chinese labor camps in cooperation with guest speaker and biomedical researcher He Haiying, who had first-hand experience with such camps while living in China. According to Mr. Edwards, community feedback concerning this year’s program has been mostly positive. “There are always people who would rather be skiing or sleeping in,” Mr. Edwards said, “but I’ve gotten a number of responses from people who were truly moved by Mr. Bledsoe’s speech, or had valuable discussions with their advisors about the movie.” In preparation for next year, the Martin Luther King Planning Committee is likely to examine the points of this year’s assembly that contributed to its success and continue to offer programs that allow personal reflection. “The goal should always be to create a day that allows the community to reflect upon the sense of unity that is so embodied in Dr. King’s life, and the call to action that is his legacy,” Mr. Edwards remarked, “I believe that this day will always be a critical part of the educational experience.”