By Philip McAdoo, director of Equity, Justice, and Community; Shoshanna Sumka, coordinator of Global Initiatives and Service Learning; and Jenni Voorhees, director of Lower School Academic Technology
Throughout the week of January 18, students and faculty from all three divisions of the School as well as parents and alumni came together for a number of activities commemorating the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On Monday, more than 150 volunteers marked the holiday by helping out at the first MLK Day of Service. The event was the brainchild of Georgine Newman-Alawode (parent of Kemi Alawode ’16, Yinka Alawode ’18, and Kunle Alawode ’22), who worked with the Parents of Black Students (PBS) and the Quaker Life, Community Service, and Equity, Justice, and Community (EJC) committees to design a day dedicated to working, learning, and reflecting about the values of service, compassion, and justice.
First, alumni from the 1960s through the 1990s shared with the group about what was happening in the world when they were students at Sidwell Friends School. They talked about how issues of nonviolence, tolerance, race, and politics affected their experiences on campus and the ways they were empowered through social justice. Next, the volunteers divided into several groups to work on projects for the Central Union Mission, N Street Village, and the National Coalition for the Homeless. Making healthy snack packets, hot meals, and emergency homeless kits was done with nimble fingers of all ages.
Returning to the Meeting House for reflection on the meaning of the day was an apt closing to the event. Even though it was the first year for this at Sidwell Friends, Head of School Bryan Garman said it felt like the community had been doing this for years. Philip McAdoo, director of EJC, called the day a natural extension of SFS and “our commitment to service and to actively embracing our Quaker values and mission.” Volunteer and admissions team member C. J. Gaffney commented, “Everyone was enthusiastic. People braved the cold and were passionate about helping those out in the elements.”
At the Lower School, the MLK assembly was designed and implemented by the Equity, Justice, and Community (EJC) Committee. Faculty member Debario Fleming created a wonderful video of LS men reading Dr. King’s speech. A variety of students were involved in reflections that connected to the January query, which was a reflection on MLK. That included 4th graders reading their blog posts on the topic and a group of students sharing a book about MLK.
As part of MLK activities, Lower School students also took turns reading Todd Parr’s “The Peace Book.”
The week concluded on Friday with a special performance for Upper School students of “At the Table with Dr. King,” a dynamic multimedia presentation led by Ayinde Russell that took the room on a journey through the American civil rights movement. Gospel singers, musicians, audio and video recordings, and audience interaction combined to transport students to a time when equity and justice were denied to black and poor people. The tribute focused on Martin Luther King Jr.’s calling and courage in trying to move the nation forward from prejudice, violence, segregation, and oppression.