Sidwell Friends Recognizes Martin Luther King Jr. with a Day of Learning and Service
“Everyone can be great,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “because everyone can serve.”
Service was at the center of the 5th annual Sidwell Friends Day of Service and Learning on Mon., Jan. 20. The community joined together to celebrate and continue Dr. King’s legacy and work. The event was organized by the Parents of Black Students and the Parents Association.
After breakfast, Sidwell Friends students, parents, alumni, and staff joined together in the Robert L. Smith Meeting Room for a workshop on overcoming everyday bias. Led by Albert E. Smith, a consultant who specializes in matters of diversity and inclusion, the gathering invited the participants to examine not only their own biases, but where those biases came from. “Bias,” said Smith, “is the brain shortcutting to a decision.” Humans are geared to take parts of the million bits of information we receive every day about whom we meet. Factors such as age, race, clothing, facial expression: All of these lead to snap judgements that may be unfair. It’s inescapable—but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.
One of the best ways to combat biases, said Smith, is to add more diverse data about different populations to our brains. Personal interactions between different races, genders, sexual orientations, ages, and socioeconomic classes are the best way to combat incorrect messages we receive about other groups.
Meanwhile, younger students were learning the same lessons in a different form. “We heard a fable about an ant and a dove,” said Isabel ’27. “The dove was really kind and she saved the ant from drowning, and the ant wanted to do something to repay her, but the dove didn’t think the ant could. But then a hunter came and was going to shoot the dove, but the ant crawled up his pant leg and bit him.”
“We learned about assumptions and the word bias,” said Zoe ’27. “The dove assumed the ant couldn’t help her but she could.”
Even the smallest attendees got the main message of the activity, even if they expressed it in their own words.
“I learned family and friends are important,” said Carmen ’31, showing off her drawing of a family. “But I couldn’t draw a house, so I just drew a tree.”
“My story is about love,” said Nora ’31. “A family traveled into a world of love and they were there for awhile because they loved it so much and they loved each other for all eternity.”
As the service part of the day began, community members dispersed around the campus. Some headed to the David P. Pearson ’52 Athletic Center to sort donated sporting goods for Leveling the Playing Field, which gives equipment to underprivileged kids. Most went to the dining hall, where multiple service projects were in full swing.
“We’re sorting books for kids in need,” said Henry ’27, who was surrounded by hundreds of books donated for Reading Partners, which partners with DC schools to support young readers. “We have to get the ones that aren’t that easy, but aren’t that hard. It’s really important to help people in need.”
The dining hall buzzed with plenty of other activities. Dozens of parents and students formed an assembly line of rice, tomatoes, beans, and corn to prepare casseroles for Martha’s Table, Central Union Mission, and Bethesda Cares. Others assembled hygiene kits for So Others Might Eat, created placemats for the Children’s Inn at the National Institute of Health, or made greeting cards for the DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Participants also joined a session by Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop to discuss the power of writing and poetry for incarcerated youth.
At the end, the entire community returned to the RLS Meeting Room for final reflections. Before beginning a short period of silence, Head of School Bryan Garman described how silence can lead to a deeper understanding. “In silence, you provide the community with the opportunity to let the world fall away,” he said. “And to find another way, a better way, a more mindful way, to recognize that of God in everyone.”
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