Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Today, we gather to commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” began Headmaster Brennan in Hall on January 19. “We pause to recognize the contributions of this remarkable man and to consider anew the principles of justice, equality, and brotherhood—principles he pursued ardently and about which he spoke eloquently. While the United States today is blessedly different from the United States of Dr. King’s lifetime, racism and bigotry persist, and there continue to be opportunities for all of us to stand up for the values that Dr. King espoused. The prejudices and hatred that Dr. King worked so hard to eradicate remain in too many heads and hearts… As we affirm that Black Lives Matter, we also acknowledge that our work goes ever on—improving our individual relationships and attitudes but working on evaluating systemic racism, as well.”

After Mr. Brennan’s introduction, Aydan Gedeon-Hope (I) read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Following the reading, Edozie Umunna (I) shared his own reflections on Dr. King’s letter, citing not only the context in which King wrote it—as a response to a letter from eight Alabama clergymen—but also the dynamics at play during King’s lifetime that persist today.

“If there’s anything I took from Dr. King’s letter, it’s this,” said Edozie. “An effective protest will always be labeled divisive by the oppressor. No matter how you protest, no matter when you protest, no matter where you protest, it will always be viewed as invalid by those whose position of power it threatens to dismantle. When your objection comes under criticism, you’re doing something right… Whatever belief you stand for, whatever cause you fight for, do not let criticism be the reason that your voice is silenced.”

Eric Auguste (I) then read a very personal perspective on Bayard Rustin—the civil rights and gay rights leader and activist—which Eric wrote as his Senior Speech, as part of his English class.

“A gay, black man born in the year 1912, Rustin lived his life suffering many hardships, constantly being battered because of his sexuality and the color of his skin,” read Eric. “However, that didn’t prevent Rustin from fulfilling the role of an esteemed Civil Rights Activist from a young age. By the end of this speech, I want every single one of you to understand why Bayard Rustin, in the face of great adversity, was a man of great courage and question why he isn’t as well known as he should be… Consider what it was like for Bayard Rustin 100 years ago. People like Rustin didn’t and still don’t get the luxury of living easy lives because of a trait they can’t change, and yet, he made it his mission to change the way people viewed race and sexuality. The world has taken big steps in the right direction but it’s time to stop letting heroes go unnoticed.”

The Hall included time for students, faculty, and staff to learn more about the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing”—long considered the Black National Anthem—through CNN’s interactive account of the song’s conception and context. Concluding the Hall was a virtual performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” recorded by RL’s Glee Club in spring 2020, which has been viewed more than 30,000 times on Facebook and YouTube.

“While Dr. King as a preacher believed in the power of the spoken word as a way to change people’s minds and hearts,” concluded Mr. Brennan, “he also knew that significant change could only come about through action, civil disobedience, changing institutions, and reaching out to many different kinds of people. He knew the importance of acting on principle when words could only begin to tell the tale. Given the divisiveness and prejudice that openly persist in our country, our vigilance, activism, and principles are consequential; we still have work to do if we want to achieve the social equality envisioned so many years ago by Dr. King. This work is the responsibility of every one of us.”

View the entirety of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Hall here.