Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored in a special Town Meeting on Friday, January 12. Shema — Hebrew for to listen or hear — was the theme. Students were challenged to think about issues of equality, equity, and social and racial justice in our society.
Upper School Principal Dr. Kimberly Schwartz stated in a voiceover of historical footage detailing the history of civil rights, “There is still a lot to do in the face of injustice, bigotry, xenophobia in this country. We have accomplished so much but have so far to go.” She proceeded to ask, if Dr. King were alive today what would he we think of us and our nation and would he be proud of our progress?
In a powerful senior sermon, Mira Berenbaum ’18 recounted the different periods in history — tracing it back to the Torah — when Jews had been a valued minority and then later an oppressed minority, leading up to present today when Jews are valued members of society. Berenbaum noted, “As a minority that has been both valued and oppressed, it is our responsibility to listen to, stand with, and support others in the same position.” She recalled how Jews, including her father, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, who marched with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement, took that obligation seriously. “As Jews we must strive to right the wrongs we see in the world,” Berenbaum added.
The conversation continued during lunchtime discussions where students could attend sessions led by faculty and/or students tackling issues ranging from stereotypes to confederate monuments.
English Teacher Adam Steele’s session on stereotypes centered on the origin of many that we hold, and how stereotyping can be detrimental. Steele found it interesting to see the things that students had to say about certain types of people based solely on their image (age, skin color, clothing, identifying marks, etc.). “I don't think many of them even considered how they instinctively react to a person based on looks, but watching them actually put words to those instincts and then try to uncover where those gut reactions come from was fascinating,” said Steele.
At the library discussion led by Director of Library Services David Kates and Librarian Claire LaPolt, they examined books — both fiction and nonfiction — that related to marginalized communities. They offered a list of book recommendations, as well learned about the books that others have read and enjoyed. While most of the focus was on the black struggle for civil rights, other marginalized groups were brought up as well, such as LGBT and undocumented immigrants.
Izzy Williams ’18 led a group which discussed Confederate monuments. They watched a John Oliver video on the Confederacy and Confederate symbols where he explained the controversy surrounding them. Izzy commented that everyone agreed that Confederate monuments should be taken and placed in a more appropriate and educational setting. She added, “I really loved participating in this lunch conversation because I felt as if I was able to bring a topic to Milken that usually isn't discussed."
Students in the session on the N-Word in Pop Culture, anonymously answered questions posed on a whiteboard such as, “How often do you hear the N word?” and “Do you think white people should be able to use it?” They also viewed an interview with author Ta-Nehisi Coates who explained how the names we call each other are based on context and relationship, and historically, groups have taken negative terms to take the power out. New Faculty Mentor Coordinator Laura Sanders-Masset, who co-led the session with Director of Admission, Middle School Ashley Jackson, expressed, “I think we had a meaningful conversation but we need more. This was a great start to a longer conversation.”