A Teach-in to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.
On the Friday before Martin Luther King Day, J. Jondhi Harrell, Executive Director of The Center for Returning Citizens, spoke with middle and upper school students in the Race Street Meetinghouse. Harrell delivered the keynote address for Friends Select’s first-ever Martin Luther King Teach-in, which upper school students arranged to honor King’s legacy of activism and leadership in the civil rights movement.
Harrell explained to students that he started The Center for Returning Citizens (TCRC) because he was one himself. He discussed the time he served in various prisons, how he learned about Quaker beliefs by working in the Friends Center (describing himself as a “Rastafarian Quaker”), and the advocacy he now does on behalf of the TCRC. He also advised students of the need to register to vote, and discussed other meaningful ways they can make a difference. “As young people,” Harnell said, “if you want to have an impact on your community, look around you. See what work needs to be done.” He recommended volunteering for organizations doing critical work at the street level, in order to have a more profound impact.
Following Harrell’s speech, upper school students returned to Friends Select to meet with representatives from organizations like Community Legal Services, the Poor People’s Campaign, Let’s Circle Up, Quaker Voluntary Services, WePac, and more to continue discussing issues of racial and socioeconomic justice. They also heard from faculty members, alumni/ae, and Aaron Smith, a Temple University professor of Africology and African-American studies who is known as “the rapping professor.”
“The teach-in was better than any of us on the planning committee could have imagined,” said Toni Graves Williamson, Friends Select’s Director of Equity and Inclusion, who explained that the idea for holding a teach-in came from middle school faculty member Jonathan Ogle last year. But as Williamson noted, upper school students were integral in planning the program and hosting guests for 15 workshops. Students also created a civil rights-themed “Kahoot!”—an online trivia game in which all advisories participated.
“It was impactful to have local leaders share how they were taking the legacy of King into their everyday work,” Williamson said, “but probably what was most impactful was the student-led process of putting the day together. They identified the goals, made the phone calls, planned the schedule. Countless lunch periods and breaks spent in my office developing what turned out to be the first of what we hope becomes a yearly tradition.”
The focus on advocacy continued on Martin Luther King Day, when the Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, Earth Quaker Action Team, and our Parent Association co-hosted a Family Experience in the Meetinghouse. Over 120 guests were in attendance to remember lessons of the civil rights movement, learn about the four roles of social change, and address climate change as a social justice issue.