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2023 MLK Week

2023 MLK Week

Jan. 25, 2023 — Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, visited Northfield Mount Hermon on Jan. 18 as part of the school’s weeklong commemoration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

“Every one of us in this house has privilege,” Mandela told students in Memorial Chapel during his keynote speech. “Those of us with privilege have a great responsibility — that is what my grandfather told me.”

At NMH, MLK Day marks the beginning of a full week of learning and activities planned by the Student Diversity Committee and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, reflecting the school’s commitment to inclusivity, learning for life, and service. Classes, advisory groups, student activities, library offerings, and all-school assignments throughout the week focus on King and themes of social justice and equality. 

This year, a highlight was Mandela’s visit, which started with a stop in the Office of Multicultural Affairs in Blake Hall, where he met with Dean of Equity and Social Justice Martha Neubert before walking across campus to meet with students in their classes in Beveridge Hall. 

Every single one of you are leaders who are going to make the world a better place.” - Ndaba Mandela

Mandela is co-founder and chair of the Mandela Institute for Humanity, which works to lift up the next generation of African leaders and fight for the end of HIV/AIDS. Both of his parents died from the disease. “HIV/AIDS has really wrecked not only South Africa but the whole continent and created a generation of child-headed households,” he said, adding that the health crisis is intricately linked with poverty and racial discrimination.

Mandela, the author of “Going to the Mountain: Life Lessons from My Grandfather, Nelson Mandela,” urged students to face discrimination head on. “As soon as you see it, address it,” he said. “Correct your family. Correct your friends.” Quoting his grandfather, he said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 

“I love being at a school that takes a whole week to engage with the themes that we know are important not just on MLK Day but all year, such as social justice and inclusion,” said science teacher Darik Velez, whose astronomy class of 11th- and 12th-graders had the chance to meet informally with Mandela.

Student Diversity Committee member Christian Georges introduced Mandela before his keynote address. “Ndaba’s work comes from the man who fought his entire lifetime to change the world he loved,” Georges said.

Mandela encouraged students to become changemakers in big ways – or in small ways that can lead to larger changes. “You’re going to be able to vote very soon,” he said. “If you want change, you’re going to have to represent your interests — no one is going to do that for you.”

In addition to many life lessons, Ndaba said he also learned from his grandfather a few practical tools: how to keep his room clean, how to fold his clothes and make a bed, the importance of physical exercise, and the value of sports and of music in community.

“My grandfather believed that the two universal languages are sports and music — they can connect people in ways that nothing else can,” he said.

MLK Week began with a screening of the film “I Am MLK Jr.” on Jan. 15, followed the next morning by a “Moment of Silence” reflection by SDC member Ashley Rakotoarivo ’24, who shared that King was not only a man of action but was — like she is — an avid reader. 

King was inspired by authors including Langston Hughes and Washington Irving — in particular, his story “Rip Van Winkle,” Rakotoarivo noted: “As King said, ‘The most striking thing about the story is not merely that Rip slept 20 years, but that he slept through a revolution. All too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.’”

MLK Week included two concerts: Camerata Baltimore, a professional choir that promotes the choral arts to traditionally underserved communities of color, returned to NMH on Jan. 17 with a rousing gospel performance in Memorial Chapel. On Jan. 21, NMH student musicians performed a jazz concert in Grandin Hall.

See photos of Ndaba Mandela’s visit, Camerata Baltimore, and other MLK Week highlights on NMH Flickr.

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