Each year, Deerfield Academy hosts a day of workshops in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during which students can immerse themselves in decisions about civil rights and the state of equality today or participate in group activities about building a better community. This year, the day centered on a theme of the “beloved community” and asked students to consider how they could make Deerfield more loving and welcoming.
Many students were pleased with the workshops this year. Colin Olson ’19 said, “I remember looking at the list this year and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of variety,’ in terms of the topics that were going to be discussed. The options, such as the hip-hop workshop, are definitely creative and have a unique approach. It’s a good way for more people to find a workshop that resonates with them.”
Olson elaborated, “During discussions, I was exposed to a level of vulnerability that some people showed. Especially for the confederate monuments workshop, I was very impressed by students who I had never met before who stepped up to voice unpopular opinions. Workshops did a good job providing an environment that was comfortable for people to discuss.”
Nadia Jo ’19 agreed: “People felt more engaged with the workshops they were in, and that made the discussions more productive.”
Overall, many felt that the workshops achieved an important level of engagement from students and provided a platform for issues that needed to be discussed in our community.
However, some students also expressed that there is still room for improvement for future MLK days. “Schools like NMH have a whole week dedicated to MLK day,” noted Vera Menafee ’20, which creates more time for “people to engage in these important discussions that affect the daily lives of students at the school.”
Abby Lupi ’18 added: “MLK’s message was always about equality, not just race. We could try expanding MLK workshops through a series that would span through the year, where certain days would focus on certain aspects.”
Olson suggested that there could be certain blocks on MLK day dedicated to workshops on just one type of issue, explaining, “You would have to choose workshops on certain aspects, maybe race or gender.”
Chris Thagard ’20 expressed that the school could focus on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. himself, stating, “I think the school did a good job of addressing some of the problems we have in our community and also in our daily lives, but I didn’t learn one thing about MLK. We never get to do that here.”
In addition to suggesting improvements for the MLK event, students also expressed opinions on this year’s keynote speaker, Jeff Hobbs, author of the New York Times bestseller The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. Some appreciated Hobbs’ message, while others questioned whether his narrative was relevant to the occasion and Deerfield community.
Olson stated, “It would be more helpful if the keynote speaker had written something for his speech that was more analytical with a thesis; I walked out looking for a main takeaway that I could incorporate into my life, but I felt it was lacking that.”
Thagard agreed, “The keynote speaker was decent this year, but I felt like he did not say anything that was relevant [to us]. I liked the story he told, but it just felt more like a School Meeting speaker and not an MLK Day speaker.”
Donnie Sparks ’18, who had read Hobbs’ book and had a conversation with Mr. Hobbs during dinner, had a different take on the speaker: “[His book is] a guide for everybody. Robert Peace did everything for his community, and would push everyone around him to try new opportunities; even if they didn’t make it, he put them on the right path.”
Sparks said the novel was very relevant to the theme of “The Beloved Community” and said it taught him to “be like Peace. He was giving everybody a chance, and learning that from him is a very valuable takeaway.”
Jo remarked, “Jeff Hobbs’ keynote speech might have been more valuable if more people had read the book.”
In short, while many enjoyed the MLK Day celebrations this year, students felt that moving forward, it would be important for Deerfield to ensure that the students feel connected to the themes and messages of both the workshops and the speaker events.