“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On Monday, January 21, Sidwell Friends families participated in a day of learning and service to honor the life and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout the day, more than 250 members of the Sidwell Friends community developed new insights about the intersections of community, health care, and racial inequities.
While younger children listened to stories inspired by Dr. King, adults and older students convened in a Meeting for Learning addressing racial disparities in health care. Eddie Cornwall ’74 moderated a panel focused on maternal and child health, featuring Stacey Stewart (P ’21 & ’23), president of the March of Dimes; Michael Lu (P ’21 & ’24), professor at the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health; Jehan El-Bayoumi, founding director of the Rodham Institute; and Wayne Frederick (P ’24), president of Howard University. They discussed the impact that social determinants of health—food, air, water, living environments, and social conditions—have on the disproportionately high maternal mortality rates for black women and disproportionately lower life expectancies for black men and women.
The panelists reminded attendees that we can find striking disparities in health outcomes in our own backyard, as close as DC Wards 7 and 8. While each panelist brought a unique lens to this larger issue, they agreed that in order to improve health outcomes for individuals, we must address systemic inequities and injustices—like institutionalized racism—facing entire communities.
“We need to teach our kids to be a voice for the voiceless, and to put their privilege to good use,” said Stacey Stewart. Michael Lu concurred: “It’s our responsibility to mobilize our kids to be less passive to issues about which they should be more active.” He explained that we should introduce children to the people behind the health trends and statistics so that they can understand the humanity behind the suffering.
After the powerful Meeting for Learning, families brought more nuanced perspectives to service activities, which included assembling casseroles; packaging first aid, hygiene, and cold weather kits; and decorating greeting cards, placemats, and onesies for nonprofits serving local communities.
Meanwhile, other attendees gathered in the Upper School library for conversations that further illuminated the need for systemic, community-level changes to alleviate the “profound psychological and physical toll” that racial inequalities and injustices can generate. Discussion leaders taught restorative meditation techniques and shared hope that future health care providers—including some in the room—would ensure every child has a fair chance to thrive through holistic, community-based care.
Head of School Bryan Garman concluded the day with words from activist Marian Edelman (P ’87, ’88, & ’92), inviting attendees to consider how their actions each day would shape the outcomes of tomorrow. He encouraged members of the Sidwell Friends community to treat this day of service and learning as a beginning, to resist the ease of indifference, and to advocate for social change even when outcomes are uncertain. As Dr. King implored, “If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”