Celebrating Social Justice, Then and Now

By Dr. Akbar Herndon, Chief Technology Officer

Although we will be using a different platform for coming together this year, more than ever, we are committed to renewing our dedication to social justice during January, the month of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. For several months, we have been hard at work preparing classwork as well as school-wide programs commemorating the civil rights movement and our ongoing commitment to fairness and human rights. Grace’s Martin Luther King program for 2021 is on schedule.

Grace has a long history of equity activism. Thirty years ago, we were one of only two New York City schools to host a Multicultural Assessment Plan (MAP) visit from the National Association of Independent Schools – NAIS. (This was one of the reasons I chose to work at Grace). In 1997, Grace sponsored a two-day, city-wide diversity conference titled “ Getting Beneath the Surface of Racism in Education”. During each of these school years, we have used the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and his birthday as a rallying point for social action. While reaching for the ideal of trying to include anti-racist instruction in our curriculum throughout the school year, January 15th (MLK’s birthday) provided a special opportunity to highlight lessons related with justice, fairness, dreams and the triumph of the human spirit. At all grade levels, a focus on past and current struggles for fairness invited stories, discussions, analysis, artistic expression and other presentations about freedom and justice. Annual MLK assemblies continue to provide a framework for shared classwork, music, visual and spoken word, celebrating social justice then and now.

Students hold signs for the 2012 Peace March

In 2004, Grace began a tradition of conducting a silent peace march (around the block and to Union Square) as part of the MLK commemoration, honoring the actions of civil rights protesters in the 60’s as well as expressing beliefs about the issues of today’s human rights challenges. Large paper mache puppets depicting freedom fighters (e.g., Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Wangari Maathi and Bayard Rustin) created by fourth graders, often led the five block march. The Peace March culminated in an all school Peace Chapel, led by students. In 2015 a new dimension was added to the annual MLK program curriculum as high school students and teachers created and led a day of social justice symposiums attended by Grace high school students and middle school students, as well as occasional guests from public schools.

Two students participate in the 2020 annual Peace March

Today, faced with our newest challenge of hosting our MLK activities remotely, the Grace community has risen to the challenge. Although we will not be able to have our Peace March, we will gather (online) for an all-school Peace Chapel, and our usual assemblies and symposiums are bursting with current day topics including covid-19 inequities, Black Lives Matter movement, the 2020 presidential election and Being a True Ally. I believe Dr. King would be proud to see his legacy and its impact continued through a new dimension of technology. Most important, is our effort to help bring fairness, freedom and awareness of our interdependence into each other’s lives.

Check the eNews for a schedule of MLK 2021 program events.