Norfolk Academy students and teachers in all three divisions honored the leadership and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Friday, in advance of the national holiday on Monday.
This year, 2018, is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's shooting death on April 4, 1968; Monday would have been King's 89th birthday. The observance began in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed it into law; some states refused to comply for several years, but it is now observed in all 50 states.
Upper School students from the UNITID Club led an educational chapel, opening with a quiz on civil rights and closing with a powerful reading of Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
Faculty and students were instructed to bring pens and pencils to the auditorium, and they were handed cards to fill out their answers . Zach Minor ’18 led the audience through a series of questions covering the Freedom Riders, the Constitution, the origin of the holiday, and the identity of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after a white woman said that Till had offended her; a decision by Till’s mother to have an open casket, so that the world could see the violence done to her son, prompted outrage and spurred civil rights activism, even as those arrested for the lynching were acquitted by an all-white jury.
After the quiz, four Upper School students read selections from Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail,
a forceful, closely-argued essay that was written to refute clergymen who had criticized Dr. King for civil rights activism that was “unwise and untimely.”
The letter includes many oft-quoted lines, including the following well-known passage: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
The student readers, Maya Foleck ’19, Lorenzo Thompson ’19, Chai Hibbert ’18, and Marissa Mejia ’19 delivered the lines with power, eloquence, and passion. Their reading made the Pledge of Allegiance, which they chose to save for the end of the chapel, all the more meaningful.
In the Middle School, Mrs. Jennifer Rodgers, who teaches English and serves as faculty advisor to the Middle School’s new Cultural and Ethnic Awareness Club, introduced two videos that paid homage to King’s contributions to the nation. The first was a video recording of Robert F. Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis, delivered in the hours after Dr. King’s assassination; the speech is considered by historians to be one of the great American speeches of the 20th century, and the force of Kennedy’s rhetoric is considered to be a major factor in eliminating riots in Indianapolis, even as riots broke out in other major urban areas. The second video was a tribute to Dr. King.
“As you listen to this speech and tribute, please reflect on how these messages are relevant today and how you can make Dr. King’s message of equality, justice, and nonviolent protest a part of your everyday life,” Mrs. Rodgers said.
The Lower School had its chapel to start 2018, which included reflections from sixth graders about taking risks. At the end of the chapel, Headmaster Dennis Manning spoke to the students briefly about Dr. King, noting that it is important to take time on Monday to think about his contributions. Mr. Manning also noted that he was in elementary school when Dr. King was assassinated, and he still remembers that day.
“Dr. King taught us to open our minds and our hearts to one another...and to love our fellow man,” Mr. Manning said.