Students celebrated the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. over the past week by participating in activities and discussions focused on storytelling and perspectives. These events were intended to illustrate the different lenses, or “glasses,” through which we view the world and others’ stories.
School Founder Frederick Gunn addressed the importance of being open-minded and seeing the world through others’ “glasses,” not just a single point of view. In a letter to Abigail dated January 19, 1846, Mr. Gunn wrote we must “shut our eyes to nothing and thus see with every body’s eyes, use all the ‘glasses’ we can lay hands upon, but at least believe the evidence of our own eyes, believe our own reason, trust our own conscience.”
Head of School Peter Becker read an excerpt of Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” at Advisor Lunch on January 14 and invited students to consider the impact Thoreau’s words might have had on a young Martin Luther King, Jr., nearly a century later. At Advisor Lunch on January 17, Kara Gritti of the History Department faculty spoke about the life of Mahatma Gandhi, whose “use of satyagraha, a kind of forceful peaceful protest,” later inspired King. At School Meeting on Saturday, students were asked to reflect on King’s story through the lens of Thoreau and Gandhi.
On Sunday, Jay Bauer, DDS, P’08 ’15, spoke about diversity and acceptance in the context of Dr. King’s message during a special presentation titled, “A Testament of Hope, Embracing Diversity.” Bauer, who is African American, said he has witnessed “the virulence and pestilence” of racism in his own family, which “left an indelible sadness.”
Bauer grew up in a town with a dividing line that was based on race. “My father grew up on the white side of town and I grew up on the black side of town,” he said, explaining that the circumstances surrounding his father’s birth (he was African American and his mother, Bauer’s grandmother, was white) remained a closely guarded family secret for decades. Bauer did not learn the full story until he was 48 years old. He made it his personal quest to find living members of his father’s family but was unsuccessful until 2014, when he was contacted by a first cousin via ancestry.com.
“Despite our color differences, our destinies had a common thread,” Bauer said. Following a few email exchanges, in which Bauer shared his story and photographs, his relatives chose to cease further contact. The two branches of his family remain segregated today but he is hopeful with time and education, that will change. He has since shared his story with students at Colgate University, Taft and The Gunnery, with the hope that it will inspire young people to embrace diversity in the spirit of King.
A full day of programming on MLK Day challenged students to engage in self-expression and dialogue with their peers about the importance of the lens through which they view the stories of others. Working in small groups, students attempted to piece together the words from Mr. Gunn’s 1846 letter to Abigail while literally wearing someone else’s glasses, or a blindfold or earplugs. This activity was followed by an all-school screening of the 2004 feature film, “Crash,” small group discussions about the film, and an activity in which students were asked to create a profile and share parts of their story with the community.
Students will continue to learn about and reflect on King’s life and philosophy in the coming days.