Blog: Inclusion & Community Engagement at OES

Dori King

As the Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement at OES, Dori's charge is to support students, employees, and parents in creating a school where all involved thrive.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2018

During my first year at OES, I had a second grade student excitedly approach me during recess and say, “Hey are you related to Dr. King?  He’s famous!”  I remember the ensuing conversation well. I asked why the student would think that I was related to Dr. King. The student responded that I was black like Dr. King and I had the same last name. I explained that yes, I was black and that I was a King by marriage [this took a few minutes]. I then asked why Dr. King was famous. The student responded that Dr. King was famous because he was a hero.

This simple story is a starting point in understanding Dr. King’s legacy, but it is a disservice because it does not acknowledge Dr. King’s humanity, the stories of many other civil rights leaders, and Dr. King’s call for “citizen service.”  

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a preacher’s kid, a PK. As a PK, he grew up under the careful nurture of his father the Reverend Dr. Martin (Michael) Luther King and his mother, Alberta Williams King. Alberta, also a PK and teacher, took up the job of teaching her children about “the social condition” known as Jim Crow. This meant that she pointedly explained to her children that she loved and valued them but other adults they encountered may not.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize, his mother made this observation about the parental responsibility of Black parents: “Black mothers, we make our sons less.” Her statement offers an understanding of the reality that Black mothers are required to offer their beloved children the harsh realities of what it is to be Black in a dominant culture that at best ignores them and at its worst has the potential to take their lives.   

When Dr. King was 15, he left his loving parents and headed to Morehouse College. Yes, at 15, Martin Luther King, Jr. went to college. This was common in the segregated South where bright young people often completed high school at an early age. We are in the presence of 15-year-olds constantly here at OES. We are aware that there is a developmental continuum for 15-year-olds and all 15-year-olds are not the same. So, we may not be surprised to hear that then Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays said Dr. King was “not brilliant.” Dr. King was an average student who did not understand the value of applying himself until the end of his collegiate career.

After doing an average job as a student at Morehouse, Dr. King moved on to seminary because he felt it was his legacy to be a preacher. Clayborne Carson offers this vivid insight into 19-year-old Dr. King's experience at Crozer Seminary:

King evidently wishing to break with the relaxed attitude he had had toward his Morehouse studies, he quickly immersed himself in Crozer’s intellectual environment. He later recalled struggling to avoid affirming racial stereotypes: “If I were a minute late to class, I was almost morbidly conscious of it and sure that everyone noticed it. Rather than be thought of as always laughing, I’m afraid I was grimly serious for a time. I had a tendency to overdress, to keep my room spotless, my shoes perfectly shined, and my clothes immaculately pressed.”

Martin felt stereotype threat, the heavy burden of the possibility of affirming negative beliefs held about an identity group that you belong to. What a burden to bear while also trying to learn theology.  What impact did this burden have on Martin?

We could easily assume based on the historical narrative of his achievements that Dr. King responded by excelling. The myth of responding to adversity with achievement. If we look closely, we see Dr. King wrestled with his beliefs and formation as a theologian. He worked and struggled with religious theory and ideology to understand what he believed. As Carson states, “He sought a theological framework that combined scholarly rigor with an emphasis on personal experience of God’s imminence.” Perhaps Dr. King's experiences of marginalization and academic struggle prepared him to do the things that make him heroic to us. It was this very human man who became the spokesperson for boycotts and one of the leaders of a movement.

Dr. King did not lead alone. We know this from the photographs and news footage of the era. Dr. King did not stand alone in the face of violence. Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, and Bayard Rustin stood with King. Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height, Prathia Hall, and Mahalia Jackson stood with King. These are only a few of the people who risked their lives alongside Dr. King. They are of various genders, gender identities, social classes, and educational levels. This diverse group of leaders shared the singular aspiration that we would live up to our country’s promise of equality.

The idea of individual and collective promise is a recurring theme in Dr. King’s sermons and speeches. Six months before his death, Dr. King had the opportunity to speak to students at Barratt Jr. High School. He asked them, “What is your life’s blueprint?” He explained that a sturdy structure requires “a plan” or “a blueprint.” He told students that to live a well-constructed life, they needed to believe in their “somebodiness” and know that human life is valuable. He also emphasized the importance of doing their chosen work well. Dr. King again touched on the topic of individual promise and potential in one of his last sermons where he discussed “citizen service”:

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity” to serve. You don’t have to know the Second Theory of Thermal Dynamics in Physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

Perhaps on Monday when you celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, you will have the opportunity to reflect on your life’s blueprint, research the stories of those who lead the civil rights fight with Dr. King, or offer your service to others in remembrance of Dr. King’s humble service.

*Here are some resources to support your own "citizen service":

https://www.unitedway-pdx.org/MLK

https://www.handsonportland.org/

http://redtri.com/portland/10-ways-to-celebrate-mlk-day/

https://www.volunteermatch.org/seasonsofservice/mlkday/

*Here is a list of opportunities to learn in community:

Human Rights Council of Washington County 16th Annual MLK Day Celebration
Saturday, January 13, 2018 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
http://www.humanrightscouncilofwashingtoncounty.org/human-rights-council-of-washington-county-mlk-day-celebration/

I Am Not Your Negro Film Screening
Friday, January 19, 2018 6:00pm
Lewis and Clark College Council Chamber

Martin Luther King Lecture Featuring the Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, Sr.
Monday, January 22, 2018 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Lewis and Clark College
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/martin-luther-king-lecture-featuring-the-honorable-arthur-l-burnett-sr-tickets-40944330595

The Movement: 50 Years of Love and Struggle
One-Man Visual Chronicle by Emmy award-winning actor Ron Jones
Thursday, January 25, 2018 7:00 p.m.

Coffee and Conversation
Friday, January 19, 2018
7:30 – 8:15 a.m.
Lower Fariss Hall, Oregon Episcopal School
Our Guiding Question: How Has Civil Rights Impacted Us?
Please let us know that you will attend via this form

*Reading and Viewing Resources:

What is Your Blueprint?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmtOGXreTOU

The King Collection at Morehouse College
http://www.morehouse.edu/kingcollection/life.php

Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Crozer Years
https://swap.stanford.edu/20141218223156/http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/sitepages/files/Crozer_Years.pdf

The King Center Archives
http://www.thekingcenter.org/

One Book, One Author, Many Experiences

Last spring, I started the hunt for a special book. A book that could be a mirror and a window for our community into the experiences of those who are marginalized. This book would be a cornerstone for our foundational understanding of human difference. It would be a catalyst for creating understanding of identity and lived experience. 

Our amazing librarians knew I was on the hunt for such a book and they shared many prospective titles with me. But at first, the search proved elusive. One rainy spring afternoon, as I was lamenting that I might not find it, our Middle School Librarian Patrick Fuller showed me the beautiful cover of a book called Piecing Me Together. I borrowed it before even Patrick could read it, and I was on a plane the next day with the book in hand. 

I read the entire book during my three-hour flight. 

This, I quickly realized, was the one we needed.

I do not remember if I emailed Patrick right away or if I returned with a smile that said this is the book. It was an extraordinarily well written, poetic piece—offering readers an insight into identity, history, friendships, and social justice. And it was set in Portland. 

But I wanted to meet the extraordinary person that had written this magical book. Who, I kept thinking, was Renée Watson?  

Like any modern researcher I went to the internet and began to find bits and pieces of Renée’s story that intrigued me. She grew up in Portland and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is a veteran teacher and artist in residence. She formed a group called I, Too Arts Collective that transformed the brownstone in which poet Langston Hughes lived into an art center. 

I knew immediately that we needed read Renée’s book and we needed her to join our community, if only for a day. 

On October 11, Renée brought her knowledge, her wisdom, and her story to us. She built upon the employees’ reading and discussion of Piecing Me Together that began the school year by offering a deeper dive into the book via reflection and discussion. 

She discussed writing with students. She also facilitated a two-hour workshop for teachers on culturally relevant teaching techniques, to teachers and encouraging them to use methods that might be outside their comfort zone. Finally, that evening in a session moderated by OES students and open to the entire community, she shared the story of writing Piecing Me Together and how the book connects to her own life and experiences. 

But in Renée’s beautiful wake, we are left with important questions—ones that speak to the work we still need to do as a community:

  • How do we create a curriculum that is inclusive?
  • How do our school’s policies and practices impact students and families from different backgrounds?
  • How can we better serve all kinds of learners in the classroom?
  • How do we structure difficult discussions and arrive at the understandings and agreements that are foundational for discussing these topics?
  • How do we get to know our students—and their self-identities—even better?
  • How can we ensure that we listen first to understand?

These questions encompass everything from institutional structures to academic programs. That is the broad scope of inclusion, which touches everything that exists in a school setting.

Thus, we must start intentionally. To do so, this year we will work to build a foundation that supports inclusion by:

  • Establishing an inclusion advisory committee. The inclusion advisory committee will support the design of parent programming, review the iterations of the inclusion strategic plan, and provide a forum to discuss topics related to inclusion.
  • Adding equity informed dialogues for employees. Northwest Resolutions has provided support to the intercultural facilitator cohort in developing three dialogues that will be offered during the year to support our staff in thinking about communication, micro-aggressions and micro-inequities, and our personal histories.
  • Offering Intentional Parent Programming. Our focus is shared language and understanding of cultural competence to support creating an inclusive community. This will begin with a discussion of Piecing Me Together for parents in December. All the resources for the discussion will be accessible online and parents are encouraged to begin their own discussion groups off campus. 

Our thanks, appreciation, and love to Renée Watson for visiting our community and sharing her book and herself.

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