Honoring MLK and the Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement

The Hotchkiss community honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with two days of activities, beginning with an All-School Assembly in Elfers Hall on Sunday, Jan. 20. The event kicked off with a performance by the Gospel Choir followed by an address by Nyle Fort, a social justice activist, scholar, lecturer, and writer.

Fort studies race, religion, and American politics, with a particular focus on the politics of mourning within African American communities. He received a B.A. in English from Morehouse College and a masters of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Currently, Fort is a Ph.D student in religion and African American studies at Princeton.

In his address to the community, Fort talked about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, saying we, as Americans, too readily accept the words as myth of a bygone era that supports our values of freedom and justice, without understanding its context. Citing current prison and police crises, economic inequality, and other issues facing the country, he said: “We all like to jump to the dream, but we don’t like to talk about the nightmare out of which King dreamed, out of which we are going to have to learn how to have the capacity to dream as well.”

He left students with three calls to action: to speak up (“Dr. King was appalled by the silence of good people,” he said); to love one another; and finally, to “have the courage to dream,” despite the current political climate.

The following morning, students attended faculty and student-led workshops on this year’s theme of Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Topics included discussions comparing the LGBTQ equality movement and the civil rights movement; poems of protest and witness; studying the Native American movement, and acknowledging overlooked athlete activists, among others. In the student lounge, students competed in a trivia contest; in the Ford Memorial Library, students held a roundtable discussion about how journalists covered the civil rights movement. In the music wing, students wrote thank-you cards to the School’s own unsung heroes, the many staff members who work behind the scenes in the dining hall, facilities, and housekeeping.  

Seniors Olivia King and Joseph Richards led a workshop on “Stepping in the Civil Right Era.” The percussive dance became popular in black fraternities in the late 60s as a response to the civil rights movement and emerging black pride movement, said Richards. Dr. King was a member of a fraternity at Morehouse College.

Other interactive workshops, like “Building Movements and Community through Music,” helped students understand the relationship between the arts and the civil rights era.

 “The day was a success because it really tapped into the theme of unsung heroes,” said Rachel Myers, instructor in English and director of diversity and inclusion initiatives. “Members of the community had a more of a choice in how they wanted to engage with the theme and what they wanted to stand up for in honor of Dr. King, as well as the many other people who helped make the civil rights movement a success,” she said.
Senior Ashton Welch, who had spent the morning in a meditation and intentional listening workshop, agreed that the small group gatherings allowed more students to become involved and gave more of her peers a voice.

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