MCS Eighth-Graders Honor King's Legacy With a New Revolution
On Monday, January 15, 2018, hundreds of people from Manhattan Country School and the broader New York City community assembled at the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument to kick off the 2018 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March. The annual event, now in its 30th year, is organized by the school’s eighth-graders and illustrates one of the many ways MCS celebrates the man and the ideals that served as inspiration for the founding of the school.
“The origin of this 30-year tradition grew out of MCS founders’ desire to share the experience of our assembly honoring Dr. King with a wider community,” said Michèle Solá, Manhattan Country School’s director, of the school's MLK Assembly, which started the year the civil rights leader was killed. “This year’s march has special significance for our community because this march milestone takes place during the same year as the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.”
(MCS MLK March in the News: WNBC-TV: Young People Honor Martin Luther King Across NYC, WCBS-TV: UWS Students March To Honor MLK's Legacy, Metro: Students Honor MLK With March as Part of 'a New Revolution')
The theme of this year’s march was “A New Revolution: Youth and Social Change,” inspired by the quote “Every generation needs a new revolution,” which is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. The eighth-graders selected the statue honoring Eleanor Roosevelt as the march starting point because of her profound work as an activist. Roosevelt’s grandson, Franklin D. Roosevelt III—a parent and grandparent of MCS alumni and a member of the MCS board for 40 years (including a stint as board chair)—addressed the crowd at the beginning of the march.
“I have to start with a confession,” Frank said. “When I was in eighth grade I had no idea who Eleanor Roosevelt was.... I didn’t realize until I was halfway through college that she was not your ordinary grandmother…
“I inherited her values….Those values inspired me to join the group of college students who went to Mississippi in 1964—Mississippi Freedom Summer—and I worked to register black voters in that difficult period when three young, idealist college students were murdered…. It was those values that inspired me and my wife to send our three children to Manhattan Country School.”
William, the first of the 22 eighth-graders to speak, explained why he draws inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt.
“She was someone who lived for action and for cause,” said William. “She was an activist to the point of being considered radical in her ideals, simply for speaking her mind, especially when it came to race, sex or class….
“Eleanor’s life was defined by her defense of fair wages for women, equal social benefits regardless of skin color, promotion of cultural diversity, recognizing the talent of black female artists and educators at a time when that was not something high-ranking officials did. She wisely warned us against ‘the great hysteria against minorities.’ Today, we’re witnessing how transcendental that warning is and was.”
After listening to four additional speeches delivered at the Roosevelt Monument, the crowd set off on a two-mile route that included stops at Strawberry Fields and the James Baldwin Residence, the New-York Historical Society, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial and the Joan of Arc Memorial. At each location, the eighth-graders spoke eloquently about a host of civil rights issues, including sexual assault, police violence, mental health, DACA, education, homelessness and racism.
The march concluded in the gym at Manhattan Country School. Eighth-grader Emma closed the march with a passionate speech about the environment.
“We can each do something [about climate change],” Emma said. “It is not fair that we were born into this world that is already so threatened by climate change. But it does not matter what is fair. It matters that this is reality. We cannot change the past or undo the damage caused by past generations. All we can do—in fact, what we must do—is take action now.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March illustrates how the school’s progressive curriculum and commitment to social justice help students develop into articulate, compassionate activists. Under the guidance of English Teacher Tom Grattan, the eighth-graders spend several weeks planning the march, which includes selecting the march theme and route and writing their own speeches. Through this process, the students develop a host of skills, such as brainstorming, collaborating, negotiating, conducting research and writing persuasively. What’s more, they learn from the experience the importance of literacy and leadership in producing public outcomes.
“The concept of a student-organized march has galvanized the graduating class to work together in a unique leadership project,” said Michèle. “‘A New Revolution: Youth and Social Change’ is a message not just for our community nor just for our time. One of the hardest lessons to teach young people about activism is how to maintain momentum when change doesn’t come quickly. When eighth-graders reread Dr. King’s words, they find the passages that seem relevant to issues they are impassioned about changing in the pursuit of a more just society today.
“Negotiating a theme for the march frames twenty-two individual voices, and this year’s, like so many others, provides a foundation on which a lifetime of participation in democratic society can be built. Choosing a route reveals other parallel lessons from history, this year from Eleanor Roosevelt to Joan of Arc. The route is long and the weather is usually cold, but one never tires of seeing education be this intentional.”
The eighth-graders’ speeches can be viewed in the video section of Manhattan Country School’s Facebook page. A publication of the students’ speeches will be available in print and online in March. To view pictures of the march, visit the online photo gallery.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March is just one example of the academics and activism work supported by generous contributions to The MCS Fund, which is part of Expanding Purpose: The Campaign for the Future of Manhattan Country School. To make a donation and to support the education of future generations of activists and critical thinkers at MCS, visit our online donation page.