Academy Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day Virtually

Monday, January 18, 2021
Students participate during last year's Martin Luther King Jr. Day conversations.

In this most unusual academic year, as students begin the winter term from their homes around the globe, the Mercersburg Academy community came together virtually to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day January 18. Organized by Mercersburg’s Black Student Union, the focus of the day surrounded what it means to be Black at Mercersburg. 

“The main goal of the MLK Day celebration is to spread Black joy and celebrate being Black at Mercersburg,” says Folake Okunsanya ’22, vice president of the BSU. “However, we also wanted to make sure that the work of Dr. King is not forgotten. We want to show people that though we have come a long way, there is still much to be done. The movement is still very alive.”

Over the summer, a movement involving schools, colleges, and universities on Instagram gained momentum when accounts were anonymously created to allow individuals to share the experiences they've encountered within their school communities. One of those accounts (@blackatmercersburg) provides the basis for conversation this coming Monday.

“We are really tackling this conversation of the Black at Mercersburg Instagram account head on; that’s what this conversation is centered around,” says Leela Woody, Mercersburg’s interim director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “It allows us to bring this conversation mainstream in a way that feels productive and moves us forward at an institutional level.”

The day’s events began with a short video. Part of this video highlights the history of Black student integration at the Academy, while other elements included Black alumni and current students sharing their experiences and students reading posts from the @blackatmercersburg Instagram account. Following the showing of the video, students took part in a discussion activities that were designed for each group’s specific grade and developmental level. 

“We are focusing on making sure that the conversations and the activities that lead to the conversations are appropriate for each age group and give them actionable steps that make them feel empowered in the conversation based on their age,” says Woody. 

As an additional element to aid conversation, students joined their fall rotation 2 classes for the day’s virtual events. After spending the fall term together, these smaller groups have already created a community and a foundation in which to navigate these challenging conversations. Both faculty and student facilitators moderated each discussion group, and all faculty and student leaders completed training in preparation for the discussions.

“I hope that students take away a deeper understanding of the Black experience at Mercersburg and in general,” says Okunsanya. “I hope the day’s conversations will spark more conversations about race and hopefully inspire more allyship in the community. My biggest hope is that Black students at Mercersburg feel more seen and represented.”

In many ways, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was an introduction to discussions that will follow as a part of Black History Month in February. During the first three weeks of Black History Month, the BSU is organizing a series of “Black Excellence Talks” where interested Black alumni and parents are invited to speak virtually on whatever topic they choose, whether that be career advice, social justice and politics, and more.

Learn more about Mercersburg’s work on diversity, equity, and inclusion on our website.