In the news recently, there’s been a bit of discussion surrounding schools in various parts of the southern United States staying open on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Some school districts in Georgia and South Carolina are using the national holiday to bring in students to make up for work lost on inclement weather days. The point of the argument revolves around the fact that, even as a federally recognized holiday, MLK Day lies at the bottom of schools’ priority lists. Many say that the holiday should be used to commemorate the history of the Civil Rights Movement and open students’ and teachers’ eyes alike to how past injustices have latently remained in our society to this day. Instead, the opportunity to take the day to learn, educate, and grow often passes overlooked. Emily Richmond, journalist for The Atlantic, writes, “There are many sides to this argument, and it’s easy to see why some educators are conflicted about the decision to either hold classes or observe the holiday. The truth is that most people associate today (along with Columbus Day, Veterans Day and a host of other federal holidays) as a free pass from work or a chance to score big on shopping bargains. The time isn’t often used for reflection and appreciation. Given that reality, might it be better if students didn’t miss a day of instruction? Should classes be held only if there’s an effort to relate the day’s instruction to social justice, civil rights and King’s legacy? If it’s only a token effort, will the message resonate—and stay—with kids?”
With these ideas in mind, it’s worth pointing out Baylor’s recognition of MLK Day. Not only does Baylor, in Richmond’s words, use the time for “reflection and appreciation,” but also the effort is no token at all. I’m grateful for the work our school puts into taking the chance to discuss a topic that’s vital to American history and current events. People pay attention to how we can improve upon the previous year’s activities, and turn MLK Day into a point of inspiration instead of an obligation. It’s clear that a barrier of dread and burden among some at Baylor holds the school as a whole back from achieving the ideal Martin Luther King Jr. Day that those same people dream of. It’s difficult to do justice to such an expansive history and accurately represent the perspectives of an entire race, and so, it’s not perfect. But, again, the holiday is an opportunity; more specifically, it is one that allows the Baylor community to use its ideas on our recognition of the holiday to take something good and make it better.
After Tawambe Settles’s opening speech, the freshmen and sophomores split into groups to watch The Hate U Give while the juniors and seniors went off to participate in the MLK day of service. These service activities included volunteering at Wild Trails, Clinica Medicos, the Memorial Hospital, the Pleasant Heights Cemetery, the Chattanooga Zoo, and many more. People often refer to this day as “a day on, not a day off,” with the purpose of benefiting the community around us. Erika Lammon, who volunteered at the Humane Society, writes, “I believe that helping a place that helps others is a perfect way to spend MLK day.”
The Hate U Give, a movie that revolves around police brutality and racial dichotomies, started the freshmen and sophomore discussions off with questions surrounding individual scenes. Conversations grew from general opinion of the movie to specific topics; was the policeman who shot and killed Khalil truly acting with concern for his own safety? Was Star’s closeted racist friend a complex character? The movie opened the doors to MLK Day discussions that encompassed a variety of opinions. It was a great choice; it immediately introduced the subjects that the freshmen and sophomores were hoping to cover and made for a seamless transition into subjects such as the history of African Americans in the United States, immigration, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, kneeling for the anthem, gun laws, abortion rights, the #MeToo movement, and a bunch of other topical things.
Baylor is a school of diverse opinions, and it’s been nice to hear from chaperones and other student instructors how everybody was able to discuss and debate their opinions reasonably. We eventually came down to asking the students whether or not their opinions felt valued at Baylor, and whether or not certain cultures are perpetuated at school. I, as a student instructor, felt that my job on MLK Day was to facilitate a conversation between all of the students equally; I felt it important to create a space where everybody could feel comfortable sharing their individual perspectives that reflect the same perspectives that surround us through history and the modern day. As we worked into the final stages of the conversation, we found that, as speakers such as Tim Wise come to Baylor and reintroduce an intensely sociopolitical environment, people on all ends of the political spectrum feel as though they are a part of a minority. When (generally) right- leaning people speak in assembly, people on the left side of the aisle feel invalid and quieted. But the opposite thing happens just as much. The two possibilities are entirely mutually exclusive; logically, there’s no way everyone at Baylor is in the minority group, considering the variety of beliefs that surround us. That’s why Tim Wise coming to Baylor is a good thing; that’s why any speakers being upfront about their beliefs is a good thing. The conversations we have after these speeches and during Martin Luther King Jr. Day are extremely important to overcoming the school-wide feeling of political dichotomy.
Conversation facilitates understanding, and with that, we get past the chasm we create by shutting ourselves off from the people we fear are the majority. That’s why we came to school on Jan. 21, and it’s why it’s important to read the news and share beliefs. Not to state the obvious, but without Martin Luther King Jr. and his actions despite being a part of an oppressed minority, the Civil Rights Movement would not have been what it was. These conversations, movies like The Hate U Give, and days like MLK Day offer us the chance to do something, albeit on a smaller scale. If you feel like there’s anything anywhere in the world that’s vital to change, talk about it. If you feel like you’re one of the only people talking about it, keep talking. And, equally as importantly, remember to listen.