26 years ago on Monday, Brian Gittens ’89 decided to boycott his classes and sit on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall, playing excerpts of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. By the end of the day, students and faculty had joined Gittens in protesting Andover’s lack of recognition of MLK Day.
Thanks to Gittens’s bravery and perseverance, Andover has since cancelled class on MLK Day in favor of organizing workshops for the student body. This year, instead of relaxing in bed like the majority of high school students across the nation, Andover students will engage in discussion on gender, race, class and sexuality, as well as welcome Gittens back to campus as the keynote speaker at Monday’s All-School Meeting (ASM).
“[Gittens] was chosen because [this year is] the 25th anniversary. The timing, though, has been a phenomenon. [Given] the fact that Ferguson had occurred and Garner and there is so much talk about activism… I thought [it was] a perfect time to bring back Dr. Gittens,” said Linda Carter Griffith, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development.
Gittens will reflect on the motivations that drove him to protest the school’s not acknowledging MLK Day, as well as discuss the importance of developing a personal value system.
“I think what you are going to learn from Dr. Gittens is that what might motivate one individual is not the same thing that might motivate another individual… There were many other black students on campus, [but] no one else led the boycott,” said Griffith.
“He had to because of his history: who he was where he grew up. Dr. King meant something to him, and the holiday meant something to him. My hope is that individuals are going to hear that,” she continued.
Following the ASM, students will attend various workshops chosen by the student- and faculty-led MLK Jr. Day Planning Committee.
While Juniors will attend a workshop featuring performances from “Out of the Blue,” Lowers will attend a presentation on the events in Ferguson, MO., by David Canton, an Associate Professor of History at Connecticut College. Canton visited campus in December to discuss the events in Ferguson. Since most Lowers did not attend his talk in December, he will present similar materials to the previous one, Griffith said.
Griffith said that the Uppers and Seniors were given the option to choose from a wide variety of topics, as they have a deeper understanding of race and the history behind it.
Meanwhile, Debby Irving, the author of “Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race,” will host a faculty and staff only workshop to discuss her book.
“[Others and I] had read her book this summer, and we felt as though the conversation about race should never be one-sided… When we talk about race, people think it’s about the non-white people. [But] white people are as much a part of a conversation about race as anybody else. So I was very excited about her book, which is a personal memoir, but which really talks about her own awakening,” said Griffith.