Our lives begin to end the day
we become silent about things that matter.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As I watched the coverage of the Washington March for Our Lives recently, I was moved by the appearance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s young granddaughter, Yolanda. She reminded the crowd that April 4th marks the 50th anniversary of her grandfather’s death. On one hand, I felt discouraged with the divisiveness and discrimination our nation still faces 50 years later. On the other hand, however, the immense energy that emanated from the young people on the dais with her gave me hope.
Last week, I was also encouraged by the work of our seventh grade teachers and students as they were engaged in the research phase of their Ensuring Our Futures project. Guest expert David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst and seventh grade Maya’s grandfather, spoke of his lifelong work serving his country in the military and as an adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. He urged students, “There are many ways for young people to make a difference on guns, on climate, on how we live together…Take time out to listen to (opposing views) stories. Show empathy. Give them respect. Ask yourself, ‘What can I learn from them?’”
Our seventh graders were well-informed and demonstrated their commitment to social justice as they asked questions. Mr. Gergen was impressed and challenged the kids. He spoke of meeting with Emma González and students from Parkland recently and urged Duke School students to study civics and public speaking. He added, “The students of Parkland are your generation. What is it you care about? Then you can be an Emma González. You can get things done now. Don’t wait.”
The Ensuring Our Futures Project is one result of a curriculum goal our faculty has had for several years. We wondered, “How might we deepen our project work by helping students become upstanders-citizens who notice injustice in our world and work to change it?” We invited staff developers Sara Ahmed and Smokey Daniels to lead a two-day institute at Duke School based on their book Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry.
We have continued the work from that institute on November and February professional development days, in teacher study groups, and in our classrooms. Musical Meghan’s Upstanders Project in chorus began with a spark from a song written by fifth grade Brook and Caroline in response to news reports about discrimination. First graders convinced me to buy still another Feelings Journal last week so that they could help feed hungry children in Durham through Backpack Buddies. And eighth graders Sophie and Zoe visited third grades last month to launch the curriculum they developed about the untold stories of American women as part of their National Identities Project.
As we commemorate the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I’m reminded of some words Robert Kennedy spoke to a crowd in Indianapolis as he announced Dr. King’s death.
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and justice between fellow human beings.
He died in the cause of that effort… We have to make an effort in the United States,
we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather
difficult times. What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in
the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or
lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a
feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be
white or whether they are black.
These words still ring true today, but the compassion and sense of justice our children are exhibiting give me hope. May we learn from them.