Mercersburg Academy students, faculty, and staff joined together Monday, January 17, for a
day centered around celebration, education, and service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. This holiday also marked the 27th anniversary of the national Martin Luther King Day of Service.
“I have a firm belief that in order to appropriately celebrate, there also needs to be an element of education, so that’s really how we approached the day,” says Renata Williams, Mercersburg’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Dr. King’s foundational work is strong, and we wanted to continue to build on that foundation in a responsible way. We also know that Dr. King was big on service, so that’s where the service element of the experience came into play.”
Students started the day as a full group for a keynote address given virtually by Lawrence Alexander, the practice leader for Carney, Sandoe and Associates’ Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Practice. Then, students broke into smaller groups to attend sessions designed and led by faculty and staff.
Sessions included such topics as “Protest Poetry,” where students explored how poetry has been used to challenge the status quo throughout history, or “The Art of Steppin’” where visiting choreographer Ryan Johnson wove together the techniques, history, and aesthetics of tap dance, body percussion, stepping, and theatre to forge works that reclaim Black narratives. Students had the opportunity to choose from more than 20 possible topics.
For students who were unable to be on campus, a handful of virtual sessions were offered, including a session focused on Special Olympics Maryland and brainstorming ways to support individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Activities surrounding the day actually began on Sunday, January 16, when students cooked a meal and delivered it to the Franklin County Homeless Shelter. Other service activities related to the day included a session focused on My Neighbor’s Bounty, a local food pantry, where students learned about food insecurities in the area and then worked together to restock the local pantry.
To round out Martin Luther King Day, Williams worked with Meriwether Godsey, Mercersburg’s food-service provider, to offer “Dr. King’s favorites” for dinner. “Dr. King had a selection of foods that he preferred,” says Williams, “and we worked hard to represent some of those items on our menu as part of the day.” Other food options were also available for students who have dietary restrictions, and throughout the dining hall, there were placards explaining the significance of the evening’s meal.
The day concluded with an optional screening of the movie “Selma,” followed by a group discussion.
“This isn’t new to Mercersburg,” says Williams. “I’m reviving something that has happened for us in the past, and I’m excited to think intentionally about how we grow these programs going forward. True celebration must have an element of education so we know why we are celebrating. It’s so crucial to the work we are doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I think this [day] was another opportunity to do that.”
For more about Mercersburg’s work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, visit our website. Learn more about how Mercersburg commemorated Martin Luther King Day in 2021 when the COVID pandemic prevented students from being together on campus.