Ahead of Monday's holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., students across all three divisions learned about the peaceful yet powerful efforts that he led to promote equality and justice during his life.
Students also laid out their plans for what they will do in the future to make Dr. King's vision part of their own lives.
Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929. He became a minister and civil rights activist, using nonviolence to achieve his goals. For example, in the mid-1950s he helped organize a bus boycott that lasted 382 days. At the age of 35, he became the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, and promptly donated the prize money to the advancement of civil rights. Tragically, Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.
On Friday, Zoe Jones '24 and Areen Syed '24 of the Middle School CARE Club helped lead a chapel that highlighted Dr. King and explained the efforts their club will be taking to promote his vision. The chapel included a video with images of Dr. King and several of his impactful quotes.
“Dr. King sacrificed his life fighting for justice and equality for all Americans," said Jennifer Rodgers, English Teacher and Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy Director, who also advises the CARE Club.
Areen spoke about the upcoming Season of Nonviolence. This is a worldwide movement that takes place annually between January 30 (the day in 1948 when Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated) and April 4 (the day when Dr. King was assassinated). The aim is to cultivate peace, love, and nonviolence.
CARE Club will be organizing activities each week during the Season of Nonviolence to bring students together and help make Norfolk Academy more inclusive. During this tumultuous time in our nation, marked by the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 and the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, it is important that “the change starts here," Areen said.
Areen is one of just 20 young people from across the world participating in a fellowship from Together We Remember, a nonprofit founded by the grandson of four Holocaust survivors. It strives to raise awareness of violence against minority groups in the United States and around the globe.
The Upper School Chapel for MLK Day, led by two members of the UNITID Club, Anaiya Roberts '21 and Corey Brooks '22, highlighted similarities between civil rights protests led by Dr. King and current Black Lives Matter protests. Anaiya read aloud from a portion of Letter from Birmingham Jail. King wrote the letter in longhand in August 1963, after being jailed for protesting conditions in the city, which was known for its harsh enforcement of segregation and notoriously unfair practices. (King was jailed 29 times during his lifetime, chiefly for his nonviolent protests and several times on manufactured charges.)
King used the open letter as a response to eight white religious leaders, who complained about the protests and the presence of King and others as outside agitators. The Letter explains his philosophy of nonviolence, such as how to distinguish between simply breaking the law and opposing laws that are unjust in their conception and intent. As a foundational text of the civil rights movement, it includes many lines that continue to be quoted today, including the following: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.'"
After reading the excerpt, the students shared a video with footage from both Black Lives Matter and protests from the 1950s and '60s, along with commentary from leading thinkers about connections between the two movements. One expert drew a comparison between the 1965 Selma March, which closed a major roadway as thousands walked in protest, and the closing of freeways by anti-racism protesters last summer. The chapel closed with Corey reading “I, Too," a poem by Langston Hughes and sharing facts about King's life.
Lower School students also learned about Dr. King before Monday's holiday. First graders took time in the week leading up to his birthday to study facts about his life. They also considered ways they could honor his vision, with students talking about peace and making peace signs. They also suggested donations to good causes, volunteering for environmental cleanups, and other charitable exercises as ways to honor Dr. King.
In addition, tributes to Dr. King are up on walls around the Lower School. As this is the Year of Courage at Academy, one student wrote, “To me courage is Martin Luther King Jr. The reason why this is courage to me is because M. L. K. had to be very courageous to help with making the U.S. understand that everyone is equal."