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MLK March Showcases Powerful Voices of MCS’ Eighth-Grade Activists

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bundled up to brave the January morning chill, more than 200 Manhattan Country School families, teachers and staff, alumni and supporters from the New York City community gathered Monday, January 18 to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to raise awareness about contemporary civil rights issues. The 28th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March kicked off at 150 W. 85th St., the location of the building MCS will move into this summer. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Helen Rosenthal welcomed the group and provided words of encouragement before the marchers embarked on the four-mile route through the Upper West Side, Harlem and the Upper East Side. News crews from local television stations were on hand to document the event. (MCS MLK March in the Media: The Wall Street Journal: “Paying Homage to Martin Luther King, Jr. and His Legacy” (Photo); WABC-TVNew York City Students Honor Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday with MarchWNBC-TVManhattan 8th-Graders March in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther KingDNAInfoStudents and Parents March to Remember MLK Jr. and His IdealsWCBS-TVMartin Luther King Jr. Honored Throughout Tri-State Area With Day Of Service)

The theme of this year’s march was “The Unarmed Truth: Uncovering Misconceptions.” Under the guidance of MCS English Teacher Tom Grattan, the school’s 19 eighth-graders spent several weeks planning the march, including selecting the march theme and route and writing their own speeches.

Eighth-grader Kenji opened the event with a speech that explored the link between slavery, Jim Crow and mass incarceration. He contends, as Michelle Alexander, professor and author of “The New Jim Crow” has, that all are racial caste systems that keep a “stigmatized racial group locked into an inferior position by law and custom.” He closed his presentation with words of hope for change: 

“Manhattan Country School had a purpose when it was founded: to provide education to those whose education rights were denied by law. At the time it was founded in 1966—even after Brown v. Board of Education—socio-economic differences and a lack of acceptance for integrated schools kept education segregated and created poor conditions for black schools. Today, the quality of education for young people who have been jailed is also substandard. As MCS transitions into a new era and a new school, my hope is that the people in this community continue to fight for those who have had their rights denied by the cycle of black imprisonment.”

From Manhattan Country School’s future home the crowd marched to Frederick Douglass Circle, the Ali Forney Center, the Harriett Tubman Statue, the Islamic Cultural Center and ended at Manhattan Country School. Along the way they carried signs calling for peace and equality and sang freedom songs. At each stop, the eighth-graders eloquently delivered speeches on topics including police brutality, gun control, Islamophobia, colorism, transgender issues and immigration. Their ability to deliver compelling, informed arguments keenly illustrated the impact of the social justice and activism education they have received while at MCS.

In the warmth of the MCS Music Room, the crowd listened as the final four eighth-graders shared their speeches. Cal closed the event with the following remarks: 

“As we stand at MCS today, we have to remember what this school stands for. It is an ideology that has defined our community for 50 years, since its founding in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.’ This school stands for peace, justice, equality and the legacy of that very man…. As we make the smooth transition to the new building we visited just a few hours ago, we cannot leave these fundamental principles behind. We must always continue to fight for them.” 

A publication of all the students’ speeches will be available in print and online next month.

“I consider the MLK March one of the unique ways we judge social justice and activism at MCS,” says Michèle Solá, director of Manhattan Country School. “How deeply are our mission and our history embedded in curriculum? How authentically do we support their individual voices? In what way do those voices seem united? ‘The Unarmed Truth: Uncovering Misconceptions’ as a theme wasn’t agreed upon easily, but the results were thoroughly satisfying: the topics, the research, the attention to developing an argument, writing, editing and exhortations to practice delivering their speeches ahead of time. Extra pleasure came from hearing so many eighth-graders refer to the MCS of the future, urging us all to make sure that what’s been important to their own education will be there for the next generations of students whose home will be on West 85th Street.”

MCS is grateful to everyone who helped make this day a success. 

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March is just one example of the social justice and activism programs supported by generous contributions to the MCS Annual Fund. Visit the Support MCS section of the MCS website to learn more.