Lincoln Academy started a new tradition this year of honoring Martin Luther King Day with a week of awareness about civil rights, equality, activism, and social justice. Students spent the week preparing for MLK Weekend with discussions in their advisor groups about race, tolerance, and the legacy of Martin Luther King.
“Increasing awareness around Martin Luther King weekend has been a goal at Lincoln for several years now,” said Jake Abbott, Lincoln Academy’s Dean of Students. “This year, thanks to a growing relationship with community members who are leading the local organization People United Against Racism, we were able to pull off a series of events to engage students in these critical issues.”
After the week of small group conversations, Lincoln hosted an open Community Meeting on Friday, January 12. During this all-school assembly, the focus was on civil rights and the legacy of Martin Luther King. The guest speaker was Danielle Conway, Dean of the University of Maine School of Law.
Conway spoke about Maine’s history of human rights, starting with the fact that in 1820 Maine joined the United States as a free state to balance Missouri, which joined the U.S. as a slave state, as part of the Missouri Compromise. “Maine, in 1820, secured what would be Martin Luther King’s legacy,” said Conway. She continued, “Maine, in 1840, admitted the first practicing African American attorney in the nation…. Then, in 1865 when we saw Abraham Lincoln succeed in challenging slavery, we had a general, Oliver Otis Howard, who became the first commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, to transition former slaves to the workforce. Where did Oliver Otis Howard come from? Maine.”
Oliver Otis Howard, she continued, was the namesake of Howard University. “Howard University was named after a Mainer. This was all before Martin Luther King was even a twinkle in the universe’s eye. Your state’s legacy was the determiner of humanitarian salvation in the United States of America. Your forefathers made it possible for Howard University to exist…. I was educated at Howard University School of Law, and I proudly connect my education to this state’s history.” Conway’s history lesson was accompanied by applause from more than 600 students and faculty gathered in the LA gym.
“One of the issues we are dealing with today is how we treat our brothers and our sisters. And today I claim you, all of you, as my brothers and my sisters. We share a joint heritage. We belong to one another. It is my responsibility to look out for you, and it is your responsibility to look out for me.”
After Dean Conway’s speech, students spent their advisor group discussing her talk, and at the end of the day gathered for a special all-school assembly to reflect on her the message. Students were moved by the speech, and student and faculty representatives joined in a circle in the gym and passed a microphone around to describe their impressions.
English teacher Bryan Manahan said “many students in my advisor group brought up the fact that even with her experience she is still afraid for her six-year-old son,” a fact that Conway mentioned in her speech as a sign that we have not come as far as we should have since the time of Martin Luther King.
Sophomore Jojo Martin said that one subject his advisor group discussed was that “we have all come from different sending schools, and we all have different levels of experience and different ways of coping with that, and this is a good chance to talk in the open about all of our different perspectives.”
Junior Sullivan Fink highlighted the fact that Conway said, “in high school you don’t need to protest with a sign to make a difference in the world. She said that we should all just go to school and learn as much as possible while we are here, so we can make a difference later.”
His classmate, junior Alex Fabiano, reiterated this, saying that Conway said “that we should embrace our time in high school, learn as much as possible, and stick to our dreams, like she stuck to her dream of being a lawyer.”
Junior Ezra Smith remarked on “how incredibly inclusive the people at LA are compared to other places in the state and the nation. We are so lucky to have the international program, and economic and social diversity here at LA, and we can always learn more from each other.”
Ninth grader Emma Tolley reflected on being moved when Conway “referred to us as brothers and sisters. We may not be blood-related, but we are all human and we can all communicate and work together.”
After the response circle, Jake Abbott showed a video that LA students made this week, which presented short interviews with members of the LA community answering the question, “what do you do to be inclusive at LA?” Students were dismissed after the video, with the reminder that Monday, January 15, which this year falls on Martin Luther King’s actual birthday, is not a “day off,” but a “day on,” and that students are charged to go out and make a difference in the spirit of Martin Luther King.
In addition to the Community Meeting, Lincoln Academy events honoring Martin Luther King included a field trip to Bates College to participate in MLK events, a day of volunteerism on Monday, and, coming on January 26, a screening and discussion of the 2014 film Selma. Many additional events were hosted by churches and other organizations in the community.