Students helped clean up city streets and hiking trails, worked in a soup kitchen, ran basketball and hockey clinics for elementary school children, collected donations for food banks, helped set up a new center for girls, and painted ceramic hearts to spread hope to first responders and hospital patients. They also participated in discussions and programs honoring Dr. King and celebrating his legacy.
“Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a ‘day on, not a day off,’” the Corporation for National and Community Service says on its website. “It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’”
All students at The Gunnery were invited to participate in this year’s MLK Day of Service. “It is a day where we do not have classes, but we engage together as a school in reflection of Dr. King’s question, ‘What are you doing for others,’” said Jennifer Wojcik, Ph.D., Director of Diversity and Arts Chair at The Gunnery, who served as a liaison to community organizations and coordinated student assignments, transportation, faculty chaperones and logistics.
More than 100 students and faculty traveled to the University of Bridgeport, which has been hosting events for the MLK Day of Service since 2006. Breaking into smaller groups, they participated in activities including “Common Ground,” a discussion of issues surrounding Dr. King’s legacy, race, privilege, diversity, social justice and equality, and “Freedom Writers,” a program that encouraged students to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy through free writing and other creative expressions. Some students participated in a street cleanup on Park Avenue and others painted ceramic hearts to spread hope to first responders, hospital patients and others in need through Hearts of Hope.
“It was really cold, but I was so impressed with how positive the Girls Varsity Hockey team was as we were picking up trash,” said Hannah Gorman, LEADS Department Chair and one of several faculty who accompanied the team during the street clean up. “They were laughing and smiling and they told me that it felt good to get out and make a difference in that way. I also really appreciated that the student program leaders from the University of Bridgeport spoke with our students about privilege and the importance of giving back.”
“These themes all tie in with what we are doing in the LEADS Department,” Gorman said, noting that it related directly to the all-school program, “Power, Privilege, and Social Justice,” held at The Gunnery on January 3. “We also studied social justice in ethics last week, and my classes did a comparison of the approaches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. We were discussing the ethical principles that govern social justice efforts and we had a great discussion. It led into the day of service really well.”
The University of Bridgeport also sponsored a workshop where participants learned how to be an ally to the LGBTQIA community, and be a force for positive social change. “While The Gunnery students who attended the workshop were all members of the student organization Alphabet and well versed in LGBTQ issues and language, the seminar leaders demonstrated some activities that our students could bring back to The Gunnery if they wanted to start a similar ally-training program,” said Blaire Farrar, a member of the English Department faculty who participated in the training. “It was particularly empowering for the three freshmen in the group to have confirmation that these issues are important to The Gunnery community.”
The Gunnery’s Boys and Girls Varsity Basketball teams traveled to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Waterbury, where they organized and ran a basketball clinic for members ages 9 to 12. Students and coaches worked with the younger students on skills such as shooting, ball control, defense, rebounding, passing and conditioning. “Our members had a lot of fun and really enjoyed it,” said Drew Postupack, Director of Operations for the Boys and Girls Club, who noted that one came into his office the next day asking “When is the next holiday so we can have those cool high school kids come back?”
“I hope that in participating in this day, our students learned a bit more about the joy of serving others, and more about their wider communities,” said Jess Matthews, Ph.D., Dean of Students and one of several faculty and coaches who accompanied the teams to the club. “Engaging in service connected to the ideals of Dr. King is a great way for our students to understand what we mean by ‘character’ at The Gunnery – that it is not only about knowing what the right thing is, but doing the right thing. The workshop also challenged students to work together, to teach new skills, and to provide positive leadership for their younger peers. It was wonderful to see them engage in that growth in such a fun and meaningful activity.”
About 50 students and faculty participated in the 22nd annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy of Environment and Social Justice program at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven. The event included world-class performances, educational activities, a teen summit, professional poetry slam and art contest. Senior London Green said the event celebrated people of different ethnicities, and the poetry slam in particular was well done. “Everyone was really professional. It was really fun,” she said. Additionally, students in The Gunnery’s AP U.S. History and AP Government classes visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford to discuss Dr. King’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail” and ring bells for peace. About a dozen members of the Future Business Leaders of America chapter at The Gunnery worked in the community soup kitchen at The Friendship Center in New Britain and coordinated a food drive to support the organization’s current needs. The leaders of the Outdoor Program took a group of students to Steep Rock Association’s Macricostas and Hidden Valley preserves to work on trail maintenance and winter clean up. The Boys JV Hockey team handed out lists of food items needed by area food banks to customers at Stop & Shop in Torrington and Litchfield. “The students did a really nice job. They understood the impact and the need,” said Ed Surjan, Library Director, noting that in all, the students collected more than $300 in donations plus enough food from patrons of Stop & Shop to stock the food pantry operated by Friends in Service to Humanity (FISH) through the end of January.
“At The Gunnery, we feel so strongly about helping others. There is evidence of it everywhere,” said Sarah Albright, who challenged students at the all-school program on January 3 to take their commitment to service a step further on the MLK Day of Service: “Give. Give of your time, give your care. Recognize that we have and that others have not. Share your fortune, count your blessings, fill your buckets with kindness.”