Stories, Service, and Sandwiches

When members of the Sidwell Friends community gathered on January 18 to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. with the traditional Day of Service and Learning, faces were lit by electronic screens. Diane Macklin asked those who gathered that morning to think of a different kind of glow.

Macklin, a performer, cultural mediator, and former Sidwell Friends teacher, presented My Story, Your Story—Uniting Our Voices. She told stories from various cultures—stories, she said, that normally would have been told around a fire. “Beyond the firelight, there was fear,” she said. “But when we gather around the fire and we cling to one another, there is strength.”

Macklin told stories from African American, Thai, and Bantu cultures, and each story was followed by a short discussion in which students connected the lessons in the tales to the COVID-19 outbreak, to the Black Lives Matter movement, and even to the January 6 riot at the Capitol building. Issues of justice, respect, community and—most importantly—kindness were brought to the forefront.

The spirit of friendship continued as the Parents Association announced the inaugural Parents Friendship Initiative. Inspired by the Atlanta Friendship Initiative, the PFI will build an anti-racist community by creating intentional friendships among people who have visible differences (race, ethnicity, religion, etc). After being connected, the parent pairs will agree to meeting monthly over the course of the next year to learn and connect, supported by prompts from the Sidwell Friends office of Equity, Justice, and Community.

The day shifted again as the community engaged in a conversation about partnership and service with Makenzie Delmotte from N Street Village, an organization that provides homeless and low-income women with housing and food services, healthcare, and education and training. The community learned about N Street’s work and the women they help—some of whom started out as clients and now work at the organization.

“Once you’re a part of this family, you’re always a part of this family,” Delmotte said. “No matter what.”

The day then shifted to service, as people made sandwiches for Martha’s Table, put together baby welcome kits for A Wider Circle, or made cards for essential workers, for first responders, and for children staying at the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health. Many “hung out” on Zoom for company as they colored, slapped peanut butter on bread, or put together hygiene or school-supply kits. (Many of the service projects are ongoing; click here to see how you can help.)

For some participants, the meaning of service hit close to home. Milen ’29 pledged to make 100 sandwiches for Martha’s Table in honor of his grandmother, who passed away in December. He joined with his cousins—some of whom are Sidwell Friends students, some of whom are not—to eventually crank out 101 sandwiches to feed others.

“We did an assembly line, so there was a person who did the peanut butter, and then the jelly,” he explained. “And then someone put it in a bag, and then a person wrote ‘PBJ’ on the bag.”

Serving others, Milen said, not only captured the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but of his grandmother, with whom he used to sit on the couch while eating Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream bars and watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!.

“She was always so kind. She’d always make food for people and help them whenever they needed help,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Okay, this is a time that we can make a bunch of sandwiches in honor of my grandmother.’ And then doing it with my cousins—she was also their grandmother—and so we’re all going through that, and it made me miss her less.”

Now, thanks to Milen, his family, and the other sandwich-makers of the Sidwell Friends community, more than 1,000 sandwiches were delivered to Martha’s Table; Milen’s classmates dedicated the 331 sandwiches they made to his grandmother’s memory, as well. Milen knows his grandmother would be thrilled.

“She always wanted people to have food,” he said. “So I know she’d be proud of all the people who made sandwiches.”

More School News

The Fire Within

Mei Xu (P ’19, ’21) discusses memory, candles, innovation, and the bamboo ceiling at a recent Conversations with Friends.

Sad News Regarding Robert L. Smith

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that former head of school and trustee Robert Lawrence Smith died peacefully early Monday, May 24, at the age of 96 at his home in Bethesda.