The New Canaan Country School community celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Jan. 14 in a variety of ways including student assemblies and an alumni panel.
As is school tradition, members of the Lower School community (Grades 1-4) participated in a group recitation of a portion of Dr. King's “I Have a Dream” speech followed by words of reflection on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusivity from Head of Lower School Meaghan Mallin. Fourth grade students who participated in the group recitation included Vivian Kanter, Reece Lenhard and Victoria Shaw. Additional assembly readers included second-grade students Amelia Grant, Walter Lapidus, Hope Gale, Finley Richards, Evvie Lasko and Henry Rust.
Middle and Upper School students, school families and alumni participated in a virtual presentation by NCCS alumni panelists Paloma Blandon ’14, Jay Craft ’13 and Alyssa Thomas ’13 who shared their reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and how it has resonated in their own lives, during and after their time at NCCS.
Ms. Thomas, who attended Emma Willard School and Johns Hopkins University following Country School, where she studied English literature, social policy, and computer science, shared how she had experienced situations in which she had been welcomed into groups and spaces and how it positively impacted her ability to thrive. Noting the importance of creating a culture of belonging, she reflected that there is a difference between proclaiming that you are an ally — by wearing a Black Lives Matters t-shirt, for example — versus upholding the rights of others, making sure that policies and laws are created or enforced.
“It’s not just about holding hands and being loving to one another. It’s also about being critical of institutions and actions and motives. It’s not enough to just invite others into a space – it’s how you are being with them in that space. Sometimes you can feel alone in a space you have been invited to be in,” she said.
Mr. Craft, who attended The Masters School and Babson College, concentrating in Sustainability and Operations, while also taking a strong interest in blockchain and cryptocurrency, highlighted a phrase in Dr. King’s speech, “The fierce urgency of now,” which he felt continued to resonate nearly 60 years later.
“Everyone has to do their part, every single day,” he said. “It’s very easy to say that someone else can take action or that it could wait, but really, if we don’t take action now, we don’t know when the next person will show up to take on that challenge or take on that obstacle. We are still trying to overcome a lot of the challenges that existed when [Dr. King] was speaking. Inclusivity and belonging really require urgency.”
Ms. Blandon, who attended Phillips Academy Andover and holds a BA in Public Policy with a specialization in education from the University of Chicago, emphasized “leaning into discomfort and having difficult conversations within your community regardless of the scale. Build community with the people around you. We can only be as strong as our relationships to other people.”
Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kojo Clarke helped to organize the school's commemoration and study of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. along with teachers, administrators and the school's six-member faculty-staff team of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Facilitators.
"Our panelists shared some powerful insights, including the importance of becoming concerned with each other’s struggles and then moving forward with empathy and love as a means to support each other in our various plights,” he said. “ Considering the age group of our school, one example of this was to pay attention to how we embrace new members of our community to ensure they feel a sense of belonging. Another was that we should make the most of the emotional and psychological safety in our community to have conversations, even when difficult, as we have nurtured the kind of environment that makes this possible to ensure everyone’s wellbeing. These are things our students can do. These are things we all must do.”