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A Perfect Way to Celebrate MLK Day

A Report by Eleanor Cook ('13)

Helen Hills Hills Chapel
January 21st, 2013

Crystal Card '16 and Gabrielle Martone '14 discuss non-violence with community members.

Last month, Smith College students played a pivotal role in Northampton’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day.

This year, the holiday heralded community events focused on the civil, environmental, and economic injustices of our time.  To the participants, the day off in mid-January is not exclusively reserved for remembrance of King’s work, but equally for advancement of social justice. As part of the local community, the Smith student participants were an important voice in the day’s events.

A still sleepy group met early Monday morning and climbed into a van destined for the “Community Breakfast and Dialogue” at the Christ United Methodist Church in Northampton. In addition to the coffee and pancakes, we were greeted by an eclectic and prolific group of locals, including business owners, clergy, activists, parents, conscious consumers and people from the age of nine to ninety-five.

Once all were fed, we broke up into groups to discuss the themes of environmental justice, civil rights, non-violence, and economic justice as they relate to King’s legacy.

Pamela Young, Director of Smith’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, began the economic justice discussion by emphasizing the importance of the holiday as “a day on instead of a day off.”

The diversity of age, life experience, and profession, everyone allowed for a rich and vivid conversation. Volunteers for the Northampton Survival Center, Manna, The River-Valley Market, and Cathedral in the Night shared ideas and resources with the group. Kitty Callaghan for the Northampton Living Wage Coalition advocated her group’s desire that we begin to consider adequate standards of living as a human right.

While our discussion left us feeling inspired by the continuous social justice work in our own backyard, the big questions loomed. What is the root of injustice? What can we do to affect real change? Where do we go from here?

After departing from the breakfast, the Smith group sat down with The Rev. Janet Bush of the Northampton Unitarian Society, The Rev. Matilda Cantwell the Multifaith Fellow at Smith, and Kim Alston of the Center forReligious and Spiritual Life. Sitting in a meeting room at the Unitarian Church, we faced the immense task of processing what we learned from our community conversations that morning. In our groups, we prepared short presentations for the final event: the Multifaith Celebration service.

The non-violence group prepares their presentation for the Multifaith Celebration.

The Multifaith Celebration was the moment of culmination. It synthesized the spirit of the morning’s community gathering and the thoughtful presentations by the Smith group into a unified call for social justice in our community and beyond. A welcome by a local drum circle and folk songs by the Nields, a local sister-duo, energized the crowd.

The Smith group left the day with a renewed sense of community. We extended beyond the boundaries of campus and Main Street to connect with people whose work addresses social injustices we learn in the classroom. The remembrance that working together is the best way to affect change was the perfect way to celebrate Dr. King and his legacy.