Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2021

Dear Vermont Academy Community,

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Normally we would have started classes already and we would be helping students reflect about this man and all that he did to inspire our country. We would be meeting to help our young people know that equality and justice must be for all. 

The events of 2020 made it clear that we have so much work to do in regards to race and social justice. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor by the police – each unarmed, each Black – rightfully dominated headlines. While these events shocked many Americans, they did not surprise people of color who continue to face obstacles of so many kinds that simply are not the same for white Americans.  

I hope that we can all testify to the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. was an American who touched lives forever and whose legacy continues to ask us to be and do better, to seek equality, and to share the American Dream and access to health, happiness, life, liberty and prosperity.  Sharing, as I mean it, does not imply socialism. Sharing means equal access.

I have taught Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” so many times and it continues to compel me with its honest appraisal of the massive shortfall for people of color aspiring to the American Dream still today. In it, Hughes asks: 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

This poem was published in 1951 – sixty years ago and twelve years before Martin Luther King would deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall. Clearly, these men and other thinking individuals of conscience were in dialogue about equality, civil rights, and access to American opportunity. And this was and is a continuing conversation.

I hope that you all have time for reflection today. Rest assured that we will be continuing this conversation. We will be teaching documents like the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers and exploring other stories that we all need to acknowledge as well. We will continue to be unbiased in our representation and sharing of multiple points of view politically, but honoring Martin Luther King Jr. should transcend political parties. And I will continue to push us all to be better --  to face racism with hope of a dream achieved not deferred.

Best,

Jennifer
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Vermont Academy is a coed college preparatory boarding and day school in southern Vermont, serving grades 9-12 plus a postgraduate year.