photo courtesy of the Maynard Institute
This past Wednesday was the first day of school. As we do every single morning, the teachers and students started the day by gathering in the dining room for what we call RoundUp. We say the Pledge of Allegiance (led Wednesday by 2 seniors), pray for guidance and strength, share celebrations (Tyler’s birthday!), and listen to announcements. And I close with a brief reflection. Here is my reflection for the first day of school, September 4, 2013 (a little longer than usual )
Fifty years and one week ago, on August 28, 1963, a pivotal event occurred in our shared history as Americans. Yes, it was the March on Washington, DC. Gathering peacefully at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, 250,000 people – not just black people, but white people, too – came together because they believed all folks should have equal access to jobs, education, and the right to vote. The Civil War, which had freed black people from slavery, had been over for almost a hundred years. But equal access to these basic things was still more a “right” on paper than a common practice in daily life. Especially for black people in the South, life was hard, often disillusioning. But the power of coming together and being inspired by dedicated leaders on that day 50 years ago gave them hope that, by standing together, things could actually change.
The Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech at this event. John Lewis, another black leader who is now Congressman John Lewis from Georgia, also spoke. He was 23, only a few years older than some of you students, and the age of a couple of our teachers. Young people, in fact, made up a large part of those who were present. Our friend John Rosenberg, a white man, was a young civil rights lawyer then, and was in Washington on that day working hard on the Voting Rights Act, which would be enacted the following year. And so were many, many other young people, who had decided that the way things were was not the way things had to stay. Furthermore, they were willing to work and work, to make change a little at a time.
For no one on that day 50 years ago, in the midst of what we now call the Civil Rights Movement, was talking about electing a black person President of the United States. They knew that to make any kind of big change, you have to start with the small things. Like education. And jobs. And the right to speak and be heard.
We have a much smaller group gathered here at The David School today – 25 students and 7 teachers, to be exact. But life has been hard for some of you and the challenges for many of you, too, are great. Two of our seniors are about to be the first folks in their family to graduate from high school. 9 of you are back in school after having dropped out at some point. Half of you live with only one parent, and 6 more of you don’t live with either of your parents. 4 of you have a parent who is deceased. 8 of you have had (or still have) a parent in jail. 4 of you are already parents yourselves or about to be. Many of you have been told by your previous school, or your family, or your friends, that the odds are too great. That you probably can’t make it. That it’d just be easier for you to quit.
But, like the folks at The March on Washington, you, no matter what your own challenges are, have shown up today.
And that is the first – and the most important – step. It means that somewhere inside you, you don’t believe that you should just give up. No matter how great the challenges on the outside, you just aren’t willing to accept what others say about you on the inside.
Remember, as the folks in 1963 did, that to make any kind of big change, you have to start with the small things. It is hard, hard work. But the ways things “have been” doesn’t have to be the way things continue to be. Dedicated leaders are an essential part of success, and that’s what you have all around you here at The David School. Equally important is the knowledge that you are standing alongside others for whom life is just as difficult, and the challenges just as great. We gather strength and hope from each other.
Be proud of yourself today. You showed up. You have made the choice to take the harder road rather than the easier one. Where you have come from doesn’t have to determine who you become. Statistics, after all, are just numbers. They don’t have to be you.