Community Reflects and Learns During MLK Day Celebration

The Northwest School community engaged in celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, on Friday, Jan. 15. The day began with Indigenous public speaker Lyla June and concluded with poet Yolanda Wisher.

Normally, the school-wide event is organized by students. However, given the complexities of remote learning, the faculty members stepped forward to facilitate the day for the year. Led by the Advancing Equity Team, faculty members presented over 20 workshops on a variety of subjects.

Lyla Jane, an Indigenous environmental scientist, doctoral student, educator, community organizer, and musician of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne), and European lineages, opened the day as the keynote speaker, describing her lived experiences and what the community can do to make Northwest a more inclusive space.

“One thing I would say, in terms of building a more equitable and inclusive school environment, is to challenge ourselves to break open our minds of what is possible,” Lyla told the community. “What counts as knowledge? What would the world look like if you are seeing it through my language, or Mandarin, or an Australian indigenous language? We can learn there are many ways of seeing and understanding reality, understanding the world, and understanding the Earth.”

After Lyla’s presentation students chose from a wide range of workshops covering topics such as implicit bias, Black feminist literature, re-energizing allyship, explorations of sexuality, queerness, and race, and global voices within the Northwest community.

Math teacher Alex Chen led “Implicit Bias - The Hidden Biases of Good People.” Alex facilitated a similar workshop in previous years, but decided to tailor his presentation specifically to Middle School students.

“Vocabulary around implicit bias and how to present it can be challenging for Middle Schoolers, but I felt given the current events of our times it was necessary to begin to teach them that vocabulary,” says Alex. “My hope is that the students will come away with questions that lead to conversations, either among their peers or with their parents.”

Theatre teacher Ashleigh Bragg led a workshop “’There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions’ - Audre Lorde: Mindfulness, Meditation, and Exploration of Sexuality, Queerness and Race.” She chose the title because she feels it is important to talk to young people about the intersectionalities of oppression and how Audre Lorde’s work explores that deeply and vulnerably.

What I want people to take away from my workshop is that there is a whole system designed to depend on us not knowing who we are, or hating our bodies or ourselves for being different from what is socially praised and historically and systemically uplifted,” says Ashleigh. “Different is beautiful and it should be celebrated. Our relationships to our sexuality and being racialized in this country is an ever-evolving journey and being kind to ourselves and all of who we are along the way is an empowering way forward.”

After the workshops, the community reunited together to listen to poems from Yolanda Wisher, an African-American poet, educator, and spoken word artist, who served as Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate for 2016-17. Yolanda read both her published and unpublished poems, including "Mentoring Joy," "Secret Garden," and "The Potter's Field."