Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable,” but WA is making the next step.
On January 15, the Worcester Academy community celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Black Students’ Union (BSU) of Worcester Academy, along with other Affinity, Interest, and Alliance (AIA) groups and leaders, spent over four months planning the celebration.
Ms. Bonnie Walker, interim directory of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, conceived the idea as a way to showcase the BSU and the members of the Diversity Committee to the WA community.
“It was a great way to promote all of our school’s Affinity groups. We are all very excited to see everything come together!” said Alanna Keyo, one of the leaders of BSU and a member of the Diversity Committee.
The intentions of Ms. Walker and the rest of the leaders at WA were achieved as all of Worcester Academy, including both the upper and middle schools, gathered in Rowe Court on Wednesday, January 15 for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly.
Ms. Walker opened the assembly with a speech reminding us that civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight wasn’t only for civil rights for black people; he advocated for those living in poverty and he rejected violence, declaring peace was the only right way to solve problems.
One moment that stuck out to me was when Ms. Walker connected our school’s core values: Honor, Respect, Community, Personal Growth, and Challenge, and our school’s motto: “Achieve the Honorable,” to the principles that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used as a foundation for his actions and beliefs. This is remarkable because one can see how our school really is working hard to build hard-working people who live their lives with integrity and virtue that mirror that of MLK.
Next, senior Naomi Dyer along with the Academy Singers sang “They Laid Medgar Evers in his Grave” with emotion-provoking lyrics that honor African American civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the four black girls killed in the Birmingham Church bombing of 1963.
After a speech from Mr. Cino, a lesson about our school’s historical connection with Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, and a heartwarming story told by Mr. Young about the topic of race in his life and his dream for his baby daughter, the members of the BSU, including myself, walked up to the front of the gym and stood in support as people declared their dreams for our school and the future. There were dreams asking for more representation for all races, colors, sexualities, and religions on campus. There were dreams of world peace. There were dreams of personal success. There were dreams of success as a country. Sophomore Shania Nelson’s dream was, “to become more successful within my skin color.” To accomplish this, she says people need to start listening to others, seeing things from the other perspective and just allowing people to be themselves.
Shania told me this at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Reception hosted by WAABA (Worcester Academy Association of Black Alumni) and WA’s BSU. This reception that took place the Thursday afternoon after the assembly allowed many of the black students and teachers at WA to converse with and listen to the stories of other former students and prominent figures in Worcester Academy’s community.
This showcases Worcester Academy’s progress in finding a safe and representative space for students of color; however, some still think it is not enough. Bil Gardiner, an alumnus of color, Class of ‘83, and an enthusiastic member of WABBA, does acknowledge that WA is putting more effort into diversity on campus; however, he is very passionate about how “it [effort being put into diversity] didn’t happen as early as it should have,” and that we still have a long way to go in “doing the things that we need to do to make it a much more inclusive environment.” He believes there needs to be a bigger push to find students, staff, and teachers of color, especially African Americans. “Folks haven’t had the opportunity to come here, be here, work here because of what they have had to go through growing up in what is still a very racist country,” he elaborates for me. “I think that Worcester Academy needs to embrace that and go beyond regular admissions… to go out and go to different neighborhoods, different cities, different states looking for people of color.”
I don’t believe he means accepting people of color into the school just because they are people of color, but rather making a greater effort to look for people of color that comply with the school’s goals and values. I think Mr. Gardiner would agree with this assumption because when I asked him what he thought was a good change at Worcester Academy, he was very spirited with his praise of Bonnie Walker, the new head of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion department. “She’s an amazing, amazing person… she’s doing very great things here.”
Efforts like Ms. Walker’s, the BSU, the Diversity Committee, and Worcester Academy as a whole help bring our community one step closer to achieving the famous dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This assembly will now forever be a part of Worcester Academy’s history and inspires many to reflect on how far our society has come since the time of the great MLK Jr.