Identity. Diversity. Justice. Action. These social justice themes are embedded throughout the learning in the entire school—in the hallways, in the classrooms and in the hearts and minds of our students. These learnings were evident throughout the day on this year’s MLK Day at JCDS.

Throughout the year, in all grades, students have been exploring their identities—who they are as individuals, as Jews, as members of our school community and in the world. This MLK Day, students had a chance to think deeply beyond themselves and about the diversity around them, specifically related to the experiences of people of color during the civil rights movement. In the lower school, students reflected on the differences between schools for Black students and schools for white students. In the middle school, students had the chance to hear the experience of author E. Dolores Johnson navigating the world as a Black woman married to a white person during a time when interracial marriage was illegal.

Throughout the day, students and teachers shared the words and voice of Martin Luther King and were reminded of our own role in pursuing justice—tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Students learned about the Children’s March of 1963 and how those students stood up and took action in the face of injustice. Students reflected on what memorials can stand for and made their own clay Martin Luther King memorials. And even our youngest students learned to unpack what racism means and looks like today.

Filled with learning and thought about our identities, the diversity around us and the pursuit of justice, students then turned learning into action. Teachers framed the afternoon of action for students with Martin Luther King’s own words: “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.”

This year, throughout the JCDS community, we are focusing on the great need to learn about and support the Afghan refugees arriving and living in our community. With the help of donated items from JCDS families, students in grades K-2 assembled 60 welcome baskets, which included handmade welcome cards, scarves, gloves, snacks, toiletries and gift cards. Students in grades 3-5 made welcome blankets for Afghan refugee children along with personalized welcome greetings.

Our middle schoolers learned about who their representatives were and wrote postcards sharing their hopes for action in the government. Students also sorted clothing donations from Cradles to Crayons and cleaned up the JCDS property. And, finally, students expressed their own dreams, hopes and commitments to action on beautifully created leaves that now adorn a new “Tree of Hope and Action” in the Mercaz, a glorious reminder of our community coming together to learn and act on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. When we joined together to sing, reflect and close the day, the melodies and words of songs from the civil rights era stirred our souls and brought us together.

Naomi Greenfield is the second grade general studies teacher at JCDS.

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