Our annual January House Block celebration to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a very special tradition at Wayland Middle School. This year was no exception. Students shared written, artistic and musical tributes inspired by Dr. King's work that were truly inspirational. In this newsletter, I share with you the remarks I offered our school community as my small part in this wonderful day.
Betsy Gavron, Principal
“What’s love got to do with it?” In her 1988 hit song, singer Tina Turner asked this very question. I believe the man we come here to honor today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, our 8th grade house mentor, would answer Turner’s question of “What’s love got to do with it?” with a single word – EVERYTHING – for King dedicated his life to equity and love. Dr. King was an inspirational leader who lived at a time when black men and women were not afforded the same Civil Rights as their white counterparts. In the 1950s and ‘60s, riding buses, lodging in hotels, using public restrooms, and voting were among the everyday activities that were not equally accessible to all citizens of our country. Unable to accept the discriminatory societal conditions, King united Americans to demand the equality promised in our Constitution. Racially charged taunts and physical violence were the norm as King and like-minded activists risked their lives to challenge unjust laws and practices. In the face of hatred and intolerance King said quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” King’s messages of love, hope, unity, and freedom were unwavering and he looked for the promise of these ideals to carry our country forward.
Today, as we pause from our daily routine and come together as a community, I ask that we focus in on King’s message of love. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was steadfast in his belief that love was a force powerful enough to transform our world. In 1964, while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, he spoke these timeless words that I quote, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Unquote. Take a moment to really take in those words - “Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Just last week in his State of the Union address President Obama echoed this phrase. In our present day world that continues to experience tragedy, acts of terror, and racial violence, we can still, over 50 years later, turn to the hope that lies within King’s promise and be inspired to act. To realize Dr. King’s dream, we, the everyday citizens of this country must carry the torch of King’s legacy and continue to work towards the world he imagined – a world where all people have a place at the table. It takes work, but we can embrace the love in our life and look to expand our circle of love. How do we open our hearts to more love, acceptance and light to live out our part in King’s dream?
One way we can realize King’s vision is by celebrating and expressing our gratitude toward the people we love. New research around happiness shows that articulating our appreciation to people in our support network makes us happier. In fact, a study out of the University of Pennsylvania found that writing a letter of gratitude and delivering it in person caused the giver’s happiness levels to jump dramatically, have lasting effects for up to a month. Don’t just take your loved ones for granted. Tell them you care.
Who do you love and want to honor? For me my parents top my list. I am incredibly grateful for the unconditional love and acceptance they have shown me throughout my life. They have been there on the good days to celebrate my successes and applaud my accomplishments, and they have also stood by me on the bad days, when pain, loss or tears replaced the laughter that regularly warmed our home. My parents are my beacon of light.
My Mom, who I affectionately refer to as Saint Sue, is a retired nurse who has as big a heart as anybody I know. For years she worked for Head Start, a preschool program designed to support low-income children. When I would come home from college on break I would go with her on some of her home visits in Worcester to translate. This enabled her to communicate effectively and build trusting relationships with native Spanish speaking mothers of children in her program. She wanted to meet mothers on their home turf where they felt most comfortable. I loved watching her work. She would collect developmental histories and offer health tips, sharing strategies to assist with difficult parenting challenges moms were facing. I could feel the genuine care that emanated from her as she patiently listened, sending the message that it takes a village to raise a child. Through her words and actions she made it clear that she was part of that village willing to help love and support the child. To this day, my mom is the first one to cook a meal for a neighbor in need. She extends a helping hand at every turn. I am incredibly grateful that she is always at the ready to do whatever it takes to support me and my family. Hopping in the car at 5 AM to come take care of one of my sick children, when I am needed at the middle school, is just a day in the life for my mom. She models for me the woman I want to be in the world.
My Dad is equally amazing and a perfect life partner for my mother. When I was growing up my father was active and involved, coaching me for years on the soccer field and joining me on long distance runs. I’d love jogging along side him talking through school challenges or fantasizing about how we’d spend megabucks if we won the lottery. In addition to spending time with me, my father has modeled for me professionally. Joining the United States Air Force right out of college was a way to serve his country on his own terms. The military became a career path for him as he sought to help and protect people. I remember the blizzard of ‘78 where he mobilized with his unit to help citizens who were endangered by massive amounts of snow, particularly the elderly within our community. As my father moved up the military ranks he became a commander of a wing and ultimately retired as a two star general and Chief Information Officer of the Air National Guard. As a leader he focused on taking care of his troops, knowing that they were at their best when he showed respect and listened to their diverse perspectives. These are lessons I aim to embrace in my own work. Like my mom, my father is a remarkably giving man. Lately, we have taken to calling him Uber Al, as he has been driving an extended family member to daily cancer treatments. He continues to seek ways to help. I must say that writing my appreciation for two of the people who mean most to me in the world to share with you today has warmed my heart. Who might you consider writing to in order to express your love and appreciation? It is worth the time.
In addition to honoring loved ones, we can make the difference that King advocated when we actively work to broaden the circle of our relationships and friendships seeking fulfillment of that which is good and decent within us. Can we spread our love? When we are curious about people in our communities and look to get to know one another, rather than assume, judge or rely on stereotypic thinking, we do the work needed to build the communities we want. This is the heart of BERT– growing belonging, empathy, respect, and trust. Hanging out with our friends is comfortable and important, but it can make a real difference when we respectfully reach out to invite a classmate into the fold who is struggling to find his or her way. It is an expression of the love and light within us. It requires effort to open our hearts and minds to one another. Initiatives such as no name-calling week are a great beginning. They set the stage for the creating the school we want. Can we carry this commitment and pledge towards kindness further, however? We are all imperfect, but we can look for the good in ourselves and seek out the good in one another. I encourage you to love more and let your inner light shine. Let kindness prevail.
So as you go forth beyond this assembly and return to your daily life, I hope you will consider the ways you might love more fully. Express your gratitude and reap the benefits of the happiness that brings. Beyond this day of remembrance, extend your curiosity and get to know an unfamiliar classmate. Open your heart to compassion and love. Make BERT our shared reality. Let’s take a lesson from King who, when considering what might be said at his funeral, asked to be remembered not for the prizes he won but rather, quote, "I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.”