For students at Manhattan Country School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day isn’t a day off from school, it’s a day to take to the streets to raise awareness about what they consider to be the most pressing social justice issues of their time. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March, 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 theme of this year’s march was “A New Revolution: Youth and Social Change,” inspired by the quote “Every generation needs a new revolution.” The march route included stops at Strawberry Fields and the James Baldwin Residence, the New-York Historical Society, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial and MCS. At each location, the eighth-graders eloquently delivered speeches about a host of civil rights issues, including sexual assault, police violence, mental health, DACA, education, homelessness and racism.
The march highlights how MCS’ 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. 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,” explains Michèle Solá, Manhattan Country School’s director. “This year’s march, like so many others, provides a foundation on which a lifetime of participation in democratic society can be built. The route is long and the weather is usually cold, but one never tires of seeing education be this intentional.”