Reflections this Martin Luther King, Jr Day – The Power of Education

    Each year, Georgetown University’s MLK: “Let Freedom Ring!” Initiative encourages members of our community to reflect on one of Dr. King’s famous speeches. This year focused on the “I Have a Dream” speech and all that it symbolizes for American society, education, and learning. For the seventh year, the spring semester initiative was launched with a community-wide “Teach the Speech” Teach-In. During this year's event, Veronica Williams (Col, ‘23), who is pursuing a major in American Studies and minors in Psychology and Public Health, illustrated the fire and desire for the American Dream that still holds true today despite the ongoing prevalence of systemic racism. In fact, as Williams emphasized, people in our time have misused the words of this speech in an effort to block anti-racist efforts. Williams challenged us to reclaim King’s original anti-racist intent. Striving for a time when black people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” doesn’t mean ignoring the legacy of racism by ignoring race; it means identifying racist structures around us—including in the classroom—and acting to dismantle them. Neonu Jewell (Law, ‘04), Critical Race Theory Research Fellow at the African American Policy Forum, further asserted that education builds character through relation to the past and truth telling, especially when it is difficult. She also called  students to take direct action to express themselves and engage in what she called “soul work.” At the heart of justice is truth telling, and we need to inspire and support our students to bring their individual perspectives into the classroom. Jewell noted the importance for teachers to set up ground rules for classroom discussion to create forward momentum and the space for an ongoing exchange of ideas.  In her keynote address, Senator Jennifer McClellan, Chair of the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, reminded us that everyone’s perspective is shaped by their life experiences—our teachers, our legislators, our students—and we can make meaningful change when we engage people where they are and through our stories. It is most important for those in power to consider the impact of their work and actions on people and communities. It has been nearly 60 years since Martin Luther King said: “I dream of a day that people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Through Dr. King's speech, we better understand that education can—must be—the great equalizer in life, and that it can fulfill this mission if we put anti-racism at the center of our work and give all of our students room to thrive.    

 

 

Each year, Georgetown University’s MLK: “Let Freedom Ring!” Initiative encourages members of our community to reflect on one of Dr. King’s famous speeches. This year focused on the “I Have a Dream” speech and all that it symbolizes for American society, education, and learning. For the seventh year, the spring semester initiative was launched with a community-wide “Teach the Speech” Teach-In.

During this year’s event, Veronica Williams (Col, ‘23), who is pursuing a major in American Studies and minors in Psychology and Public Health, illustrated the fire and desire for the American Dream that still holds true today despite the ongoing prevalence of systemic racism. In fact, as Williams emphasized, people in our time have misused the words of this speech in an effort to block anti-racist efforts. Williams challenged us to reclaim King’s original anti-racist intent. Striving for a time when black people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” doesn’t mean ignoring the legacy of racism by ignoring race; it means identifying racist structures around us—including in the classroom—and acting to dismantle them.

Neonu Jewell (Law, ‘04), Critical Race Theory Research Fellow at the African American Policy Forum, further asserted that education builds character through relation to the past and truth telling, especially when it is difficult. She also called  students to take direct action to express themselves and engage in what she called “soul work.” At the heart of justice is truth telling, and we need to inspire and support our students to bring their individual perspectives into the classroom. Jewell noted the importance for teachers to set up ground rules for classroom discussion to create forward momentum and the space for an ongoing exchange of ideas. 

In her keynote address, Senator Jennifer McClellan, Chair of the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, reminded us that everyone’s perspective is shaped by their life experiences—our teachers, our legislators, our students—and we can make meaningful change when we engage people where they are and through our stories. It is most important for those in power to consider the impact of their work and actions on people and communities.

It has been nearly 60 years since Martin Luther King said: “I dream of a day that people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Through Dr. King’s speech, we better understand that education can—must be—the great equalizer in life, and that it can fulfill this mission if we put anti-racism at the center of our work and give all of our students room to thrive.