Norfolk Academy students learned about the enduring motivational energy in Dr. Martin Luther King's message through an array of presentations and activities leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, which is a day off from school.
Paul Wilson, principal at Brighton Elementary School in Portsmouth who was Portsmouth's citywide Teacher of the Year in 2015, delivered a galvanizing and emotional chapel to the Upper School on Friday. The chapel was organized by the UNITID Club, and Wilson was introduced by the club's president, Sydney Beverly '20. Wilson worked for more than a decade as associate director of the Breakthrough Program at Norfolk Academy.
Wilson's message focused on the optimism of Dr. King, fusing it to the poetry of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. Wilson read an untitled poem by Hughes, which begins with the line, “What happens to a dream deferred?"
He also highlighted excerpts from King's “I Have a Dream" Speech, delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Wilson noted that, even in his speeches, King always insisted on a brighter day ahead. When King notes in one line of the speech, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds," he immediately follows that with a hopeful statement: “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt."
“A dream deferred is not a dream denied," Wilson said emphatically. He spoke about his challenges to reach his own dreams of becoming a teacher, mentor, and school leader.
Wilson has earned regional accolades for his own brand of optimism tied to action. Last year, in his first year as principal at Brighton Elementary, he vowed that the school would achieve accreditation, a distinction that it had not earned since 2013. Many were skeptical at his boldness. However, through a combination of innovation, unstinting effort, and unified commitment, the school did just that--boosting its student enrollment and parent involvement in the PTA along the way.
“What is in front of you does not have to be your reality," Wilson told the students. “We have to change the narrative." Wilson received loud and extended applause, and many students stopped to shake his hand as they left the Johnson Theater.
Middle School chapel on Friday, led by students in the CARE Club, also focused on King's positive message and the power of nonviolent protests in bringing about change. Students watched a video about his life, then answered questions.
Lower School students have also spent time this month learning about Dr. King and his legacy. Among their activities, first graders discussed his “I Have A Dream" speech and came up with their own dreams of how to make our world better. Sixth graders study the Civil Rights Movement as part of the social studies curriculum, and they partner with second graders on a civil rights activity day.
Bulldog Bytes, the Lower School's weekly student-led video newscast, included an educational video about the life of Dr. King and encouragement to use the holiday as a day of volunteer service to the community.