In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. posed to his audience, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” This quote was repeated throughout Brewster’s classrooms and advisory spaces Monday, January 17 as our community set out to honor MLK Day and the important work it represents.
This year, our Brewster community honored MLK Day through the theme of impact. Leading up to the holiday, school leaders, Brewster’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, and select student clubs thoughtfully collaborated to come up with the programming for the day.
“We really wanted to honor and continue the work of Dr. King by focusing on a theme that our students could directly relate to,” said Amy Hill, one of Brewster’s two Interim DEI Coordinators. “We felt that giving students a day to reflect on the impact they have on our community and the greater world would give them an accessible starting point in living out our mission of creating lives of purpose."
Inspired by student and faculty input, a special schedule was created with extra advisory time, an All-School presentation, and opportunities for additional service throughout the day.
In advisory, students reflected on the impact we have in each other’s lives (see photos above and below). They answered questions like, “Who has had a positive impact on your life? Who is someone that positively impacted you at Brewster? At Brewster in the past week?” They were also given the hard task of considering people who may have had a negative impact. Rather than dwell on these experiences, advisors helped direct students to the takeaway: We all influence each other every day, whether we are aware of it or not.
All advisors also read this poignant message to ground their conversations: “We are all profoundly impacted by the people and culture around us. As a result, we also have a profound impact on the people around us. This is especially true at a boarding school when we live and learn together every day.”
After discussing and sharing their goals and reflections, students turned their introspection toward action. Every student wrote down a personal goal that answered: What can I do today to make a positive impact on someone who is not a close friend, or to make a positive impact on the greater Brewster community?
The collected goals now hang proudly in the Estabrook Dining Hall. If you walk by the wall of cards, you may read:
- Clean up shared spaces and help the staff clean up.
- Learn more names of students on campus so I can address them personally when I see them on campus.
- Start a conversation with someone I don’t usually talk to.
- Laugh a lot. Be positive. Work hard.
Head of School Kristy Kerin challenged students to fulfill these goals in her opening remarks at the day’s special All-School Meeting. She recited the broader context of Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “an individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.” Then, she called on Brewster students to be intentional with their choices and thoughtful about their mistakes as they consider their broader role in the world.
“At Brewster, we’ve made it our mission to prepare diverse thinkers for lives of purpose. As a school, we want to help you understand who you are as learners. We want to help you hone your personal values and we want to help you discover your strengths and your talents,” she said. “And we do this in the context of shared values as a community, values of inclusivity, respect, ownership, and within an operating principle, that ‘Brewster will be better because of me, and I'll be better because of Brewster’.”
Throughout the All-School, students and faculty reiterated this crucial message through personal stories, powerful visuals, and the sharing of poetry and student work.
“Today, I want to honor Dr. King, not by calling out our flaws, but by calling in our differences,” Jaila Richard ’22 shared. She called attention to the progress Dr. King has inspired, but that work still needs to be done—both in our society and at our school.
“As I've been going to Brewster for four years, my hope and belief in people has continued to grow,” she reflected. “Dr. King was the blueprint that laid the foundation for what we need to continue to follow. I'm calling on all of you to think about something you can do to bring our community together and move forward with the mission of Dr. King.”
Jaila also drew attention to a rousing truth: Change may be slow, but taking action doesn’t have to be.
Jade Hall ’22 and Hiba Al Zaharri ’22 followed Jaila’s impactful words with a reading of the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes.
“We are incredibly proud of Jaila, Hiba, and Jade for sharing their voices as we mark this important day,” said Alicia Childers ’01, the other Interim DEI Coordinator. “Dr. King once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,’ and we felt it was important to not only emulate that for our students, but to give them a platform to share their experiences, knowledge, and advocacy. This day is not only about education, but about crafting agency for those in our community.”
Armed with the knowledge that their actions make a difference, and inspired to claim agency over their decisions, some students took immediate action that day, participating in community service opportunities around campus—some students put together care packages (see photo above) and some teams volunteered with food drives. Others dove into planning mode—clubs brainstormed future events, teachers enlisted the help of students for future projects.
Not every action is public, though. If the lessons from Martin Luther King Jr. taught us anything, it’s that little, everyday moments of impact might make even more of a difference. As members of our community filter in and out through the dining hall this week, they’ll walk past 300 index cards filled with goals for how each student can do something to make a positive impact on someone else.
And when you read the goals, with powerful messages from MLK Day still in your head, it’s hard not to see Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the mountaintop, and how lives of purpose can get us closer.
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