Lisa Wei ‘26 and Sophia Mielke ‘25
Jan 19, 2024
On Monday, January 15, the Mercersburg community gathered together to celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., activist and prominent civil rights leader. The ceremony consisted of opening remarks by Dr. Renata Williams, the school’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, followed by the keynote address from civil right lawyer Abdul Dosunmu.
"Mr. Abdul Dosunmu is a civil rights lawyer and movement-builder. Among all the many great things he's done, he's founded and directed the Young Black Lawyers' Organizing Coalition," said Jamar Galbreath ’03, Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The Young Black Lawyers' Organizing Coalition (YBLOC) is a network of young black lawyers and law students dedicated to protecting voting rights.
About Dosunmu, Williams said, "He's also worked to impact racial justice and served as an appointee of President Barack Obama. Both Dr. King and Abdul Dosunmu are instrumental leaders and faces of the civil rights movement. With Mr. Dosunmu, as a civil rights lawyer, it's exciting to see that work continued and how he impacts lives everyday." Galbraith echoed Williams’ remarks: "Looking at connections between Mr. Dosunmu's work and Dr. King's work, the civil rights movement continues to exist today, and so our work around social justice is just revolutions of that movement. As a lawyer like Mr. Dosunmu, to be able to engage in that legal system and create other positive changes in both local and national communities is also similar to Dr. King's work."
Emphasizing that paying tribute to Dr. King's dream is more valuable than just taking a day off, the day’s activities were designed to immerse students in African-American culture and history. Students chose from a variety of activities to participate in as a way to honor Dr. King and his legacy. "All of these sessions were selected to create a variety of programming that elevates the life and legacy of Dr. King," said Williams. Activity leaders submitted proposed workshop options to the DEI team. Williams said, "I truly enjoyed all of the session proposals. I read through all of the ideas that folks submitted and worked through how we could relate each discussion to the work of Dr. King."
Kevin Malo '24 participated in the “MLK, Malcolm X, Songs of the Civil Rights Movement” session sponsored by science and math teacher Jim Malone. "Mr. Malone did an incredible job using different speeches and songs to teach us about the legacy of Dr. King." Other students chose to perform community service. Community Engagement Director Emily Parsons said, "Some students wrote letters of gratitude to veterans and the elderly. Some walked dogs and others got off campus to help at partner sites like Conococheague Institute, Peckin' Thyme, and My Neighbor's Bounty. Two groups also traveled to Chambersburg to participate in MLK Day programming planned by the town’s Racial Reconciliation organization. Students at Peckin' Thyme, an animal rescue farm, cleaned stalls and fed the animals.” Maggie Coors '25 said, "It was fun and rewarding. I liked it better than last year." Said Kene Olusanya, '24, “At My Neighbor's Bounty, we learned about food insecurity by shopping on a SNAP budget, and then we worked at the food pantry. I had to learn how to shop for an entire family with only $16; it was a lot harder than I thought."
As part of the closing activities, the internationally recognized performance group SoulSteps introduced students to the African-American dance tradition known as “stepping.” “I’ve been in contact with SoulSteps since last year, so we have been thinking about how we could infuse that art of stepping into our day. SoulSteps will talk more about the meaning behind stepping and what it means in today’s society,” said Williams. She went on to introduce the dancers, saying, “We’ll be seeing and hearing how the rhythmic movement of using your body and using your feet can help make sound and joyful music. How will it look? Well, it is better seen than elaborated.” Galbreath further explained, “Stepping is an art form where we utilize our bodies and motions as instruments. We used stepping as a form of expression, of ideas and emotions. Stepping is really important in African-American culture because it was a big part of ‘The Divine Nine,’ a group of nine fraternities and sororities.” Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of one of the historically black fraternities, Alpha Phi Alpha. Cyn Carter ’26 was called up to stage to lead the audience in a step series, concluding the day with exuberant performance by all.
The programming of the day left the community to reflect on our responsibility to act for change in our world. Head of School Quentin McDowell encouraged the school to take this message to heart every day, not just one day per year.