An extended celebration of the life, work, and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began at Monday Morning Meeting last week and wrapped up at this week’s meeting with moving readings by students from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
The schedule for MLK Week, planned by the Student Diversity Committee, the Global Ambassadors, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, offered many learning opportunities and inspirational touchpoints. The week included a host of discussions, films, thought-provoking homework assignments, a curated selection of books in Schauffler Library, and a moderated discussion with keynote speaker Loretta J. Ross.
NMH has made a tradition of devoting an entire school week to King’s work and legacy. The event is a prime example how inclusivity, service, and life-long learning is woven into the NMH culture and learning experience as a whole.
Martha Neubert, dean of equity and social justice, kicked off the week by introducing King’s biography and the civil rights movement at the all-school meeting on Jan. 15, King’s birthday. “As you might imagine, it's hard to do this man and movement, past or present, justice in just one day,” she said. “It’s part of why the school takes several more days. Ideally, we're focusing on injustice every day here.”
Members of the Student Diversity Committee also presented biographical facts, readings, and other sources of information about the history of the civil rights movement and King’s place within it.
On Tuesday, students were treated to an uplifting performance by the charismatic Camerata Baltimore gospel choir after an all-day snowstorm. The choir performed traditional spirituals and gospel tunes that had students waving their arms and swaying in sync.
Another highlight of the week came Wednesday, with a keynote address by Loretta J. Ross, moderated by Willow Sujin Brandt Kwak '24 and Alex Tse ’24. Ross,an assistant professor in the study of women and gender at Smith College, is a prominent activist, public intellectual, scholar, and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” Ross spoke to students about subjects ranging from her path to activism and her emphasis on human rights awareness to her tactics for staying resilient in the face of difficult work.
Kwak and Tse took turns offering questions and points for conversation. “We read a recent article from Smith College magazine about your opposition to ‘calling out’ culture,” Kwak said. “I was wondering if you could tell us a bit more about what you are hoping for with ‘calling in’ culture?”
Ross explained that she strives to cultivate communication when difficult conversations are in order. “When you want people to be held accountable, and then shame and blame them, of course they’re not going to have a conversation with you,” she said. “That doesn’t make sense. When you call people out, you are not inviting them to a conversation; you are inviting them to a fight. But people are more likely to want to listen to you and have a conversation with you if you're curious.”
After the conversation, Lanie Blanton ’25 said that she loved hearing from Ross. “It felt good to see someone who looks like me be able to talk in front of a school full of kids about reproductive justice, something I’ve been learning about since I was born,” Blanton said. “It not only made me feel empowered but made me want to empower others. I felt called to think on how I’ve handled situations and endured experiences in the past and reflect on how I could do better using those experiences to aid me.”
As the week progressed, students were offered opportunities to attend two film screenings: “Anthem” and “I Am MLK Jr.” On Friday, Director of Musical Programs Ron “Smitty” Smith oversaw an MLK coffeehouse event. The evening started off with a performance by NMH’s jazz ensemble, followed by what Aurora Song ’25 described as “a warm and intimate evening that included inspiring poetry, prose, and lyric excerpts, all related to MLK and the civil rights movement.” Song said that the positive atmosphere was enhanced by the background music playing throughout the evening.
The coffeehouse, and the week as a whole, embraced one of the key themes Ross offered in her speech: “The joy of life is something that we are supposed to be experiencing,” she said. “Even as you are looking at some of the worst things that human beings do to each other."
“But,” she continued, “you have to fight with joy. If you're fighting for equal rights on the right side of history and you are not having fun, check yourself. You're doing something wrong.”