On Jan. 21 and 22, the Deerfield community gathered for a holiday that is commemorated throughout the United States: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. While many of the ways Deerfield has celebrated MLK Day in the past have remained the same, the leadership for the event added new aspects to the 2019 observance of this holiday.
One of the major changes this year is that the school brought several outside speakers to campus, such as Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami ’03, Henia Lewin, and Perry Cohen ’94.
Marjorie Young, Director of Inclusion and Community Life explained, “We are focusing more on outside facilitators because we wanted to provide an opportunity for everyone to participate in the workshops. Over the past four years, the format has been that the majority of our workshops were presented by students and employees, often the same employees year after year. Since we have offered more than 25 workshops [every year], this means that a significant number of us are not participating in the workshops. This year we wanted to change that dynamic and bring in new voices, which is why we are relying more on outside facilitators.”
Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami led a workshop that discussed the importance of having difficult conversations on diversity, Henia Lewin told her harrowing experience as a childhood survivor of the Holocaust, and Perry Cohen shared his very personal story of “going from a little girl in NH, to member of the second class of girls and the class of ‘94 at Deerfield, to an Ivy League women’s soccer player, to embodying the corporate ideal and then tossing it all to the side to become a man, found a non-profit, and ultimately become an agent of change.”
These three workshop facilitators are examples of Deerfield’s goal for its celebration of MLK day: to honor King’s legacy through having conversations about justice and inclusion on campus in as many areas of today’s society. Ms. Young says, “Prioritizing the work of social justice, diversity, and inclusion is how we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Each year we revise and adjust the format of MLK Day in the hopes of best meeting the needs of our community. The goal for MLK day remains the same: to use the time to engage the community in dialogue about inclusion related topics that impact our community, society and the world.
Another large addition to this year’s celebration was musical guest Supaman. By leading a workshop and giving a musical performance, Supaman added music to the conversation about social justice that has not been seen in past Deerfield MLK days. Ms. Young explains, “We knew that Supaman would connect with our student musicians, but he is also raising awareness about the challenges facing America’s Indigenous people.” Supaman’s platform has already attracted many people, with one of his video projects he created to bring awareness to the ongoing epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women having garnered nearly 13 million views.
In discussing the impact of this addition, Christina Li ’20 shared, “Music is unique because its universal, so wherever you’re from anyone can understand it. It’s all about the emotion.”
This revamped program to commemorate the historical efforts towards equality and inclusion Martin Luther King Jr. pursued so many years ago exemplifies Deerfield’s continued effort towards inclusion and awareness of different cultures and voices.