Behind the Scenes of Andover’s MLK ‘Day-On’

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day), January 16, 1989, a recording of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech played out on repeat from the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall. Andover students went about their classes while senior Brian Gittens ’89 spent the day playing the recording to protest Andover’s lack of recognition of MLK Day. Dozens of students and faculty members eventually joined him in pushing for Andover to honor the day. The following year, Andover decided to take MLK Day ‘on’ instead of ‘off’ for the first time. 

Now, 33 years later, Andover’s 2023 MLK ‘Day-On’ will feature a variety of educational programming including invited speakers, and student and faculty led workshops to honor Dr. King’s legacy of social justice. 

Andover’s annual MLK Day is organized primarily by the Community and Multicultural Development Office (CaMD). Hector Membreno-Canales, Instructor in Art and Director of CaMD, described the variety of topics relating to social issues and identity that students will have the opportunity to learn about this year. 

“The workshops range in subject matter to include… many, many, many different subjects. As the years have gone on, more and more parts of the community have begun to engage with the celebration, with the planning. So every year, [MLK Day] actually ends up being just a little bit bigger than the year before,” said Membreno-Canales. 

Reflecting on his experiences with MLK Day at Andover, Jaeden Glace ’23 noted the personal freedom upperclassmen are given to teach and attend workshops that interest them. He recalled how, in his time at Andover, MLK Day has continued to expand with a larger and more diverse offering of activities catering to a variety of student interests. 

“I like that [Andover] gives students the opportunity to conduct their own courses; I like the variety in the courses that we’re able to take because different students have different passions, and they’re able to bring that to MLK Day. I remember in Freshman year for MLK Day, we did a big group workshop which I didn’t really like because I feel like I didn’t know the topic and you didn’t get to choose where you went. But I like how it evolved into students now [being able] to conduct their own MLK Day workshops,” said Glace.

Throughout the year, CaMD team members work with other Andover offices and committees, including the Office of the Physical Plant, Office of Information Technology, and previous faculty members of CaMD to plan the event. Membreno-Canales commented on the careful decision-making process that goes into selecting each year’s programming. 

“In the summer months, we’ll sit around and we’ll say, ‘Okay, what kind of theme are we going for? What is very present in the moment right now? What do you think are some big issues that might be in the news this year ?’ Well, reproductive rights, the environment, the fragility of democracies, those are some of the issues that are happening that feel very timely. So then we’ll begin to look at who some thought leaders [are] that are engaging with these topics, and we’ll make a short list, a kind of dream list of who we would really like to come visit us in community,” said Membreno-Canales.

Touching on what he hopes members of the Andover community can learn during the MLK Day programs this year, Julian Reed ’23, Co-Head of Afro Latinx American Society (AfLatAm) and introducer for this years’ MLK Day keynote speaker, highlighted the topic of race. He also advised students to attend each workshop with an intent to participate and learn. 

“I hope that everyone in the [Andover] community can take away an understanding of how race connects with elements of their own identity and life. Hopefully, stemming from this, people can develop a genuine interest in the subject and consider how race functions in their life and in the lives of those around them, particularly those of different ethnicities from themselves… In my opinion, members of the [Andover] community can get the most out of MLK [Day] by being present…You really get [out] what you put [in],” wrote Reed in an email to The Phillipian.  

Membreno-Canales also shared his hope that students will respond by engaging with programming. Acknowledging the diversity of identities and ideas at Andover, he emphasized that by honoring one another’s voices and perspectives, students could build a more connected community. 

“There are people from many different backgrounds in our community. The best way to honor those constituencies of students as people is by… taking a sincere interest in who they are. If we can just be present during the day, and maybe set our devices aside or lean into discomfort or listen to someone with a story that’s remarkable, or hear a perspective that’s different from our own — I think that’s really how students can make the most of it,” said Membreno-Canales.