Two Steps Forward, One Step Back?

Twenty five years ago, Brian Gittens ’89 brought Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to Andover when he skipped class on the third Monday of January in his Senior year. In protest of Andover’s lack of recognition of the day, Gittens sat on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall and played Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech over his boombox. Students and faculty eventually joined Gittens on the steps in observance of this day, setting the precedent for the importance of diversity and acceptance on Andover’s campus.

A quick glance around Cochran Chapel this past Monday morning, however, is all anyone would need to see the overwhelming apathy and begrudging attitude many of us displayed toward this year’s celebration of MLK Day. While NPR host and four-time Emmy winner Maria Hinojosa delivered her speech, students stayed glued to smartphones, chatted with their neighbors, made rude remarks about Hinojosa’s speech and even nodded off to sleep. Even after the All School Meeting, the buzz in Paresky Commons was more a cynical critique of the details and semantics of Hinojosa’s speech, and less a discussion of the themes of diversity, acceptance and change that she introduced.

Andover celebrates MLK Day arguably unlike any other school or institution. Instead of taking the day off, the Office of Community and Multicultural Development and the MLK Day Planning Committee spend countless hours making sure we can take the day on. Workshops, films and speakers give us the opportunity to engage in a conversation about diversity that is often put on the back burner in favor of our busy day-to-day activities.

As 2014 marked Andover’s 24th MLK Day celebration, we cannot begin to view this day as an obligation an unnecessary nuisance. Instead, this day should be seen as an opportunity to engage in unique and informed conversation. Even if conversation can be contentious, forced or uncomfortable at times, it is important we are at least open and willing to discuss issues that both stem from and affect our community. A singular viewpoint on minority issues is not the goal; diversity of thought is just as relevant on this day meant to spark discussion and question the status quo.

To demonstrate that Andover still values diversity and acceptance just as much as it did on that day 25 years ago, we should choose to embrace the celebration of MLK Day. While we may not agree with each other on certain issues, or want to wake up early on our long weekend, MLK Day at Andover is a privilege, one that Gittens and his classmates believed in for the betterment of our community.

_This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXVI._