The Hotchkiss community honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a series of inspiring workshops that explored the program's theme of restoration, renewal, and resilience. The two-day celebration kicked off Jan.16 with a soul food dinner followed by virtual community conversation hosted by BaHSA.
On MLK Day, Jan.17, the activities continued virtually with a screening of the powerful documentary The Road To Justice, followed by an address from the executive producer and keynote speaker André Robert Lee. Since 2018, Lee has worked as an educator, writer, consultant, and filmmaker who is committed to building an army of change agents.
He has directed and produced numerous documentaries, television programs, and films, including I’m Not Racist…Am I? and Virtually Free, the story of incarcerated youth in Richmond, Virginia. Lee’s journey as a filmmaker began during his undergraduate education at Connecticut College, where he produced The Prep School Negro. He went on to use his storytelling skills to build his career as a filmmaker and to chart his path toward changing the world.
The Road to Justice follows a group of black middle-school students and a group of older, white Americans on a Civil Rights tour of the American South. The film posits that to heal as a nation and confront systemic racism, we must first confront our nation’s history.
In his address to the community, Lee encouraged students to move forward and to find their own path in the fight against racism.
“When I was a little kid, I wanted to change the world, but I had no idea how to do that. I’ve been lucky to find the space to actually do it, through filmmaking, activism, and spending time with communities,” he said.
Change is hard, he told students. “It is a continuum. Then, we get to the messy work of challenging, asking questions, and finding a way for change to actually happen," he said.
"It is your job to step up and to find your way in your own community to push for equity and justice. I encourage everybody to join the choir and to use our voices as loud as possible. We have serious work to do to shift this world and to follow the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
In the afternoon, community members had an opportunity to continue the conversation with Lee and to attend other workshops and affinity spaces, many of which were led by Hotchkiss alumni and students. Shameeka Smalling '98 and Sheria Smith '01 hosted "Sista Time," an affinity space for Blacks girls and women only. Other workshops included "Civil Rights Trivia", "Traveling While Black", and "The Memories That Shape Us".
In his workshop, “Reflections from the Bench: Procedural Justice,” Judge Jay Bryan ’66 explained the importance of non-judgmental questioning in his role as a judge. Using a case example, he invited workshop participants to compose questions that would address facts in the case, but with language that avoided bias or conclusions.
After graduating from Hotchkiss and Yale, Bryan earned his law degree from North Carolina Central University in 1977 and began practicing law in Chapel Hill in 1978. He was appointed Judge of North Carolina’s 15B Judicial District in 2012 and served until his retirement in 2020. He has spent his life working to ensure that the law is applied equally and compassionately to all individuals.
During his years in the courtroom, he came to appreciate the importance of giving people a voice to express themselves, and of neutrality, respect, trust, helpfulness, and listening to evidence, which he incorporates in his current work in mediation law.
Similarly, while a student at Hotchkiss, Bryan was profoundly influenced by the two summers he spent as a proctor in the Greater Opportunity (GO) program, a summer enrichment camp that brought teenage boys from inner-city neighborhoods in Connecticut and New York to Hotchkiss for academic and athletic programs.
He has often noted that he was deeply influenced by the time he spent with those young men. "Through understanding their humanity then, I can better understand and appreciate the humanity of those who come before me now,” he has said.