Note: Even though the Martin Luther King holiday was on Monday, many festivities have continued throughout the week.
By Melissa Beatriz Skolnick
To some, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day may be nothing more than a day off from the hectic life of school, work, and the like. Yet, it is important to remember the true meaning of MLK Day, which it is not only a tribute to Dr. King himself, but also a day dedicated to service.
This year was the first time I personally truly grasped this concept of engaging in a day of service. Along with some fellow classmates, I attended a discussion entitled “The Conversations of Kings: From Dream to Sacrifice Toward a More Perfect Union,” held at South Philadelphia High School.
At this event, the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, which focuses on “Turning Talk into Action,” opened with a snippet from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The speaker then drew somewhat of a parallel from this speech to President Obama’s more recent “A More Perfect Union” speech.
Soon after, the attendees all broke up into smaller groups, mostly comprised of high school students. A majority of these students were with a group called Education Works, which “supports children and youth in urban schools and neighborhoods.” Some of the students seemed drained, even borderline apathetic, because they had been attending activities all day.
After some prompting questions though, the students began to open up and see the meaning behind a discussion on King’s message. One of these questions included if people thought Dr. King’s dream had been achieved, or if it was still far fetched. Many shared personal stories and opinions, and although I feel as though an educational aspect was missing in the conversation, even embarking on a discussion about race in today’s society and Dr. King’s message was pivotal. In my own high school, these themes were never discussed, and this special day was not attributed as a day of service.
As previously mentioned, additional educational aspects to this particular discussion would have been helpful, such as defining key terms (i.e. discrimination, racism, etc.). Also, more direct questions would have been beneficial, especially in trying to guide younger individuals in discussing more complex concepts such as racism, race relations, and stereotyping. Nonetheless, it was important that these students were able to use their voices in order to begin to articulate their experiences.
Events such as these strengthen the day of service and reflection that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day consists of. Looking ahead, we must not forget Reverend King’s message, and we must continue to think about him and his vision beyond the designated day of service.
Melissa Beatriz Skolnick is currently a graduate student attaining her Master’s in Social Work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She strives to merge social work and journalism together in order to bring more awareness to various underrepresented communities, as well as to bring light to societal inconsistencies. In addition, she hopes to one day impact society through endeavors such as policy-making, writing through a widespread medium, and speaking to those who are willing to listen.