MLK Day at Gould Academy

January 24, 2016

Last Monday was Martin Luther King Day. At Gould, we celebrated the memory of Dr. King by taking time to engage in our community. Each class had a different project and students did things ranging from helping cook and share lunch in the Maine Veterans Home to discussing civic engagement with local politicians, from sewing dolls with refugee women from Somali to packing donated medical supplies to be shipped to hospitals in need around the world. Tuesday evening we came together to share our experiences with the members of our advisory.

Warning a bit of a tangent… but it relates: I was at a leadership conference at the end of last week and one of the speakers discussed the importance of creativity in our lives. I plan to write more about this in a later glog post, but one of the stages of creativity he emphasized was the need to take it out of our heads to make it real. Be that privately sketching an idea or very publicly landing a rover on Mars. In the vein of “making,” I also see sharing as an important part of creativity. So I would like to share the talk I gave at the beginning of dinner with all of you.

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This evening I am going to take a few minutes to draw some connections between the service work we did yesterday and the message of Martin Luther King Jr. To begin, we will have a reading of King’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”

[this part was read by a collection of students and faculty]

This is the second half of a speech given by King at the March on Washington for Civil and Economic Rights August 28th, 1963, the hundred year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the American slaves. The legacy of the speech is in the impact it had on the the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of the civil right legislation. However, the context of the march was not just about civil rights. In many of his speeches and writings, King explicitly tied the civil rights movement to economic equality. In the first half of the “I have a dream” speech, King talks about the economic position of African American saying: “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.” He continues to use the language of money and economics to stress the struggles of African Americans. He talks of cashing checks and promissory notes, insufficient funds and robbery. We must remember this side of Kings message, the need for economic prosperity and support systems for ALL citizens.

In the first half of the speech, King also talks about the whites who were in the crowd, saying: “many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.” Elsewhere he in this speech and others, he stresses the importance of working together, as a community. Because we are all one community. In his Letter from he Birmingham Jail, King famously wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But less famously, but equally importantly, he continued: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.”

In these words, and many others, King, implicitly and explicitly, lays down a challenge. We cannot live in a world of “us” and “them.” We must work together to create a world of “us.” No “them”. We are one community and we must be one together. He challenges us to extend our relationship circles and love to include not only those we know, but all of humanity. This is not a passive state, but an active process of inclusivity. King is best know in America for his leadership in the fight for civil rights. But he was also an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He clearly linked the civil rights movement to the need for world peace and non-violence. King’s faith and position as a leader in the Southern Baptist Church was central to his message of compassion and equality. 

Compassion is important. We must have compassion. Compassion can lead us to understanding. When we begin to understand others, we can then engage in community with them. Through engaging in our communities we begin to achieve MLK’s vision of a communities where we all walk together hand in hand 

Take time tonight to talk with the other students in your advisory to talk about what you did yesterday and what you learned. 

I want to leave you with a quotation from MLK’s first major speech against the Vietnam war, delivered almost 49 years ago in April of 1967, four years after the “I have a Dream” speech and almost exactly one year before his assassination.   

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

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No pictures of students this week. I’ll come back to that next week.

Colin

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