The Community and Equity office decided to take an alternate approach to celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year. In place of a familiar format Concord Academy has adopted in past years, each class was instead assigned to one full-day commitment. The Sophomore class took on the task of community service. The class was divided into sections, each in charge of a different form of service. These sections worked on packing meals for food pantries, providing hygiene products to an organization that distributes to those in need, assisting the CA kitchen staff, and providing child care for campus kids. The Junior class went on an off-campus trip to explore Boston’s Black Heritage Trail. The Freshman and Senior classes joined together to draft a letter to the greater community outlining their vision for change at CA and what goals can help move CA forward.

Unfortunately, these gradewide responsibilities took away the most important aspect of what MLK Day has come to represent over the years. In the past, CA has utilized this day to open up space for community-led workshops, a chance for students to discover new ideas otherwise unfound in the daily curriculum. Yet, this day served as much more than just a break from normalcy, as upperclassmen were granted the opportunity to lead their own workshops; creative outlets for students seeking to inspire their peers on issues and topics they cared about. They presented their proud work to other students who deliberately chose their workshop from a wide selection of other topics. This allowed students to participate and learn about what they already felt interested in, encouraging real inspiration to grow into action and sustained efforts toward progress. All this was achievable by activating student voice, rather than imposing gradewide responsibilities that only cater to a portion of the students’ interests.

My own MLK day experience as a sophomore consisted of cleaning cabinets and washing windows in the StuFac. While it may have been somewhat fulfilling to alleviate our hardworking kitchen staff of their endless obligations, I found myself way outside my understanding of what MLK Day represents. In the opening presentation, Alex Holmes called upon audience members to share goals and expectations to guide the community through the day, for example: thinking deeply about hard topics, expressing courage, and learning along with others. I think the old workshop format of MLK Day perfectly embodied these values and I wish to see it again in the future.

The most cathartic moment of my MLK day was in conversation with my peers about the work we had done. The heat of the discussion was about whether more mandatory community service should be a part of CA life. I believe that action and change should be born out of natural inspiration and passion and that enforced practices cannot produce these same effects. Too often is community service used to feign good virtue and relieve societal guilt, when it should be motivated by the necessity for change. When the main focus of community service is “seeing the impact,” participants lose sight of what is important about the issue, revealing an unconscious superiority complex and questionable motives. Rather, the participants should focus on what needs to be done: consistent work and genuine engagement being the indication of real progress. A single, acute focus on community service once a year does not embody this, no matter how seemingly impressive the contribution.

Ultimately, change is only imminent in the presence of true inspiration. Let CA look to the voice of its students as the guide for inspiration and change.