This year, EHS held its first-ever MLK Day Symposium, a "day on" of learning and engagement opportunities for the community.
“To engage every student in some component of work that would have embodied the spirit of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.”
This was the vision of Joel Sohn and other EHS administrators and faculty in creating the MLK Day Symposium, a day full of learning opportunities that was received with enthusiasm and praise from students and adults alike.
The day’s events began with a special performance, “At the Table with Dr. King,” by the group Listen.Live.Repeat. The performance offered a mashup of excerpts from some of Dr. King’s most famous speeches with music and multimedia clips of art and archived footage from the Civil Rights Movement.
“The morning performance was one of the best events at Episcopal we've ever had,” said one student, who submitted an anonymous comment to Mr. Sohn, who requested feedback to help him plan for next year’s event.
“From volunteer service where students could help other communities and individuals, to creative endeavors that allowed for artistic expression and understanding of the impact that art and poetry had during the Civil Rights Movement, to history lessons, science lessons, and cultural anthropology lessons; the day reflected the diverse ways the nation experienced, and continues to experience, the fight and push for social justice for all,” Sohn said.
The most highly-attended session of the day was the special alumni panel discussion moderated by English teacher Louis Smith and featuring seven African-American alumni sharing honest experiences and insights from their time on the Hill.
All of the participating alumni - Dr. Cedric Bright '81, Dylan Glenn '87, David Hatcher '84, Jonathan Lee '01, Lauren Marshall '09, Rodney Robinson '86, and Dr. Jürgen Taylor '81 - expressed deep gratitude, often for specific mentors and friends from their time as students, but were also open about the challenges and struggles they faced.
Reflecting on the event the following day, David Hatcher ’84, Executive Producer at WNBC-TV in New York, wrote, “The experience has sparked a conversation on my (Facebook) feed with other EHS alumni. Conversations that bring back good and bad memories… as well as emotions of fear and sadness but also joy and happiness.”
“The history of race relations at The High School mirrors that of the nation… it's not black and white; it is far more complex. I look forward to expanding and improving yesterday's program.”
Dr. Cedric Bright, Assistant Dean at the UNC School of Medicine, was equally moved by his experience on the panel and back on the Hill.
“I am grateful that we had the time to do this panel, I wish that we had events like this when we were here,” Dr. Bright said. “I hope by sharing our experiences we helped to validate the need for diversity of all types for the enriching of the academic environment. I hope that the students were able to identify with us as we shared the good times and the challenges of our time; and can relate it to their present situations. I was proud to see so much diversity within the student body, and I truly enjoyed our discussions in the small groups."
“For us to have as strong and caring a community here as possible, we need to be able to take honest looks at when we do things really well and when we could have been more effective,” said Head of School Charley Stillwell. “The alumni panelists especially all lived through important and challenging times here as students, and I am grateful they were willing to help us be the best community that we can be today.”
One of the student attendees remarked, “It was really nice to hear how little things made such an impact on the alumni and how EHS shaped them.”
Another highlight session, “History of Episcopal High School & The Civil War,” featured a panel of experts on Alexandria history, as well as research on African-American employees of the school from the 1800s and into the 1900s, conducted by Augusta Nau ’15 during her senior externship.
Nau’s findings, and some of the alumni panel’s memories, were at times difficult to hear, but Mr. Stillwell said it was in part the willingness to face uncomfortable details that had so many students and faculty alike coming to him with such positive feedback about the day.