What does MLK Day mean to you? This was the question posed at the start of our community assembly today. Equality. Work yet to be done. Celebrating diversity. Love for our brothers and sisters. Perseverance. A fight worth fighting. Civil rights. As each person stood and shared a word or phrase, you could see a cracked door into their life as light shone on each individual’s story. For some of us, our story has long been openly read by those around us. For others of us, we've allowed our story to collect dust for years as we have clung tightly to our thoughts and emotions for fear of judgement. This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at Proctor provided connection through self-reflection; an invaluable exercise we must never limit to a singular day in mid-January stamped as a federal holiday.
To kick off the day of celebration, Proctor’s Jazz/Rock Ensemble shared two numbers, including a beautiful vocal of “Change Is Gonna Come” before members of Proctor’s Diversity Committee shared readings and original poems. Each spoke with the raw emotion only heartfelt conviction can elicit; conviction that too often comes from personal experience of our young brothers and sisters living in a world far from healed of racial tensions.
Guests Joanna de Pena ‘08 and Kurt Faustin MC’d performances by visiting artists from Joanna's non-profit organization, Top Notch Scholars, creating an environment of shared connection within the walls of the Wilkins Meeting House. This was not a typical MLK Day assembly keynote. Instead, the compilation of songs, readings, and dances entertained as individual stories resonated with the community, stories that were remarkably confident in their vulnerability and profound in their impact.
Following performances in the Wilkins Meeting House, advisories ate lunch together and reflected on the impact of MLK Day for their group by creating a quilt square that represented their reaction to the day. Every advisory’s conversation varied (my advisees focused on their struggle with having a singular day to celebrate equality and justice instead of having the topics more interwoven into our curriculum throughout the year), but clear themes emerged as groups returned to the Meeting House for a closing ceremony to present their quilt square.
A desire for equality. An acknowledgement our nation has taken painful steps backward in terms of racial justice over the past twelve months. A hope that the Proctor community can be a model of what a respectful, loving community looks like. A determination to be leaders of the future who will affect change. An appreciation for different cultures, passions, and people around us. Each theme within the quilt squares reinforced the community we want to be, a community whose core values are not just written on the walls of the meeting house or on the pages of the student handbook, but on each of our hearts.
It is this internal compass each of us needs more than ever. It is easy to say the right things on days like today. We’ve all sat through dozens of MLK Day assemblies, heard the power in Dr. King’s speeches, been moved to tears as we watch black and white videos of the bravery exhibited by those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. But would we have stepped up against the hatred and racism of the 1960s? Are we stepping up right now? Or are we content to cheer from the sidelines and continue to say the right things, share our outrage at the status quo on social media, and return to the comfort of our lives within the Proctor bubble? Will we wake tomorrow and have the same conviction to affect change in the world around us we had today? Will we live our core values even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular?
As Terry Stoecker closed the day with a time of meditation and reflection, one quilt square kept appearing in my mind - a phoenix rising from the flames. It is this challenge to rise up that we take forward with us from today, a willingness to rise up and accept nothing less than that we will be better at loving those around us than the generation before us. That is how progress will be made. It is our responsibility, regardless of our age, gender, race, or creed to rise up together.