While most surrounding schools have a day off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Cheshire Academy is different.
The school has a long standing tradition of holding special workshops and presentations on MLK Day in order to pay homage to King and his message of equality.
This year, the events began in the Gideon Welles Dining Hall with former Cheshire Academy student Aleesha Grier-Rogers, who remembered her senior year at Cheshire Academy — 1990 — when she and her classmates held peaceful sit-in protests on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as a way to urge Cheshire Academy leadership to honor King and his message.
That year served as the catalyst for Cheshire Academy’s continued rememberance on MLK Day.
“That day, which we now call ‘MLK 1’ changed my life forever,” Rogers remembered. ”We all must see this day as an opportunity to learn and listen.”
After Rogers, singer/songwriter Lytasha Blackwell took to the podium in order to perform a few of her poems and talk to the audience of students about her experiences as a black woman. Some of Blackwell’s poems included samples of songs by recording artists such as Ashanti, Coolio, and R. Kelly. Blackwell’s poems not only talk about her personal experiences, but shine a light on how oppression can impact communities as a whole.
Dr. Maysa Akbar was the keynote speaker for Monday’s event. Akbar is a board-certified adolescent and child clinical psychologist and is an assistant clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine Child Study Center. Despite a few minor technical difficulties, Akbar began her presentation by asking the audience a question.
“Do you think Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was achieved?” she asked. While most students answer was no, she asked the group to think more broadly. “Dr. King’s message to us was not about completion of a goal … Progress, not perfection is the goal … It’s about progress, and we have made that.”
Akbar then gave the audience a peek into her personal story, beginning with her move from the Dominican Repubic to the United States at the age of 5. When she moved to the United States, she knew very little English and because of that, she claims, she was held back and placed in special education classes.
“Here I am, at 5 years old, classified with a learning disability. And that sticks with me throughout most of my academic career … What does that sound like to you?” she asked the audience.
Because of Akbar’s personal experience with racism as a young girl, she believes she can share King’s message of triumph with groups of young students, in hopes that her story can impact others.
Akbar spoke to the audience about how, for most of Kings life, he grew up with many of the same anxieties and challenges Akbar did, due to his racial difference.
“There are a lot of connections [these kids] can make with their lives right now and Dr. King’s early life,” Akbar remarked. “So much of what happens in your early life will impact you for the rest of your life, and what happened to me in my early life ultimately led me to do the work that I do now.”
After Akbar’s presentation the students were dismissed into teams assigned workshop, including ones labeled “Emotional Health and Regulation,” “Everyone’s Dream,” “Women in Leadership,” and “The Service Learning Lifestyle,” so that the groups of students could further discuss the key elements of the lessons taught during the morning session.