Sparks ignited after the tragic death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of multiple law enforcement officers this past year, which reopened deep political and social wounds in an already divided country. Protesters across the nation, including in downtown Camas, demanded change and equality for the black community. As a result, Camas School District staff and students have a new understanding and appreciation for Dr. Martin Luther King’s work after witnessing the events that unfolded in 2020.
- What does MLK symbolize to you?
Dr. Snell, Camas School District superintendent: “Hope and opportunity. Dr. King’s words and example push me to do everything I can to help our community be more inclusive and to undo the impact of racism and discrimination in our world.”
Dr. Charlene Williams, Camas School District assistant superintendent: “MLK symbolizes our aspiration for true social justice.”
Mr. Morris, Camas High School principal: “Dr. King was a preacher and a warrior for “the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice”. Each MLK day, I’m reminded that we should stand up for what we believe in while respecting those that have a different opinion. I am also mindful that, as a white male, I’m afforded the advantage to voice my beliefs in a way that is not experienced by every member of our community. I reflect on the progress that has been made, but know that work is still needed to achieve justice for all.”
CHS Senior and Black Student Union member Jacob Gray: “MLK day is just a reminder for me of how Black Americans got their rights. MLK led peaceful protests which eventually worked but there were many sacrifices that were made.”
- How do you think MLK has impacted the world?
Dr. Snell: “Dr. King helped create benchmarks in progress for equality and human rights. I think that in Dr. King’s time a lot of Americans did not understand the oppression and violence that people of color experienced every day. There wasn’t the same access to the world like there is today. His leadership forced our country to confront the reality of racism and shared a vision of what we could become if we’re willing to do something about it.”
Dr. Williams: “Dr. King serves as a beacon of hope for what many Americans dream about – equality of experience and opportunity irrespective of one’s skin color, gender, ability, or otherwise. For America to pause and celebrate the impact of his legacy is huge, but we must do more. Dr. King was a major change agent and guidepost in a long journey starting with many before his arrival in the battle for social justice – a battle that continues on to this day. We must be careful, however; as his prominence created a sense of celebrity that has many of us looking for the next Dr. King instead of understanding our role and taking action to advance the movement he led to the next level. We honor his impact in our daily efforts to dismantle systemic oppression and racism.”
Mr. Morris: “I think his work has paved the way for Civil Rights and Equality. He also provided a model for peaceful demonstrations.”
CHS Senior Jacob Gray: “I think MLK day has changed a lot of people’s point of view on the government in black America. People started to realize that America wasn’t fair to everyone and they started to do something about it besides just sitting on the couch thinking about it.”
- What feels different about MLK day this year amid the social and civil unrest of our country right now?
Dr. Snell: “I think there is a collective sense of urgency for change. We have a history of racism and inequality in our country that has been difficult to change. My experiences as a white, middle-aged male are different than other people’s experiences. I have privileges and opportunities that others do not and our systems, including schools, have perpetuated that. Everyone should have that same privilege and opportunity and that’s just not the case.”
Dr. Williams: “Celebrating a holiday once a year will not address the deep rooted ills in our country. In many well-intentioned instances, MLK day has been turned into a day of service. These acts are important but may not invite the deep reflection, dialogue and systemic changes that need to be addressed, and that would best honor King’s legacy and dreams. This year, MLK Day feels muted by all of the chaos, divisiveness, and violence. Some people will choose to do some true introspection and deepen commitments to change while others will consider it just another three day weekend. Some will simply need a break from the chaos, a momentary pause so they can continue fighting the next day. I can only hope that “calls to action” really lead to meaningful action.”
Mr. Morris: “To honor Dr. King this year, Camas High School has partnered with AWSL (Association of Washington Student Leaders). The focus of this year’s theme comes from the speech “What is your life’s blueprint” which Dr. King gave before the students of Barratt Jr. High in 1967 six months before his assassination. “However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody….and so our slogan must not be ‘burn, baby, burn’; it must be ‘build, baby, build!’”. I think that our need to live the words and beliefs of Dr. King are as relevant today as ever.”
CHS Senior Jacob Gray: “MLK day is just one day talking about what he did for black people’s lives in America. I think that everyday we should talk about what he did especially in a time like this. I feel like every MLK day there should be a speech similar to Martin Luther King Jr. famous one to show how important that day really is.
- How are you/the district going to honor the day? Is it different than in years past?
Dr. Snell: “Well it can’t be just about the day although I do think it’s important to pause and reflect and remember Dr. King and his legacy. It’s got to be in our everyday life, challenging ourselves to see things from different perspectives, intentionally looking for people who aren’t feeling included and safe and reaching out. It’s a daily commitment to advocate for those that don’t have a voice. In our schools it’s doing a better job of providing safe opportunities for students to have real conversations about what they’re experiencing because this world is really complex. It’s doing a better job of having our curriculum reflect the students we serve. If we can create a community where everyone feels included, respected, and is treated with dignity there are no limits to what we can accomplish together. Each individual has so much they can contribute. It’s our job to create the safety and support necessary to make that happen. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Dr. Williams: “As a district we help educate staff through our equity work on the importance of celebrating holidays such as MLK day. We support schools with planning and programming as needed. We also encourage them to go deeper in order to find ways to infuse the contributions of Dr. King and others in lessons throughout each year – beyond when this day and others may appear in the calendar. Our hope is to create the classrooms and schools where there is true equity in experience and outcome and that requires our attention and intention everyday.”
Mr. Morris: “We wish that we had the opportunity to honor Dr. King and his legacy together as a school community in person. But his legacy is too important, and we recognize that too little has been done in the recent past, to merely post an acknowledgement. This year we welcome James Layman, Director of Student Programs, to share reflections and call us to action. I hope and encourage every student, parent, teacher, and administrator to watch this message and to use their voice to affirm their commitment to a principle of Dr. King’s.”
CHS Senior Jacob Gray: “It is for sure different this year because of how much racial injustice occurred in the country this past year. But I am going to honor that day by living my life as a black American and tell others who need to know more about how impactful MLK Jr. was for us.”
CHS Junior Kaeli Rackham: “I am celebrating the man who fought for social justice for the black community especially in 2021 where it’s still a big issue.”
CHS Freshman Maggie Lind: “It’s (MLK Day) definitely gonna be taken more seriously because before it was just seen as the day off, but now it will probably either be big protests or big celebration to celebrate and fight for people of color like MLK would have wanted.”
There is a lot of hope in 2021 that the political and racial divide that has grappled the country will meet its end. Dr. King’s message is just as relevant as it was during the Civil Rights Movement as it is today.
Dr. Snell said in an email to Camas School District staff on January 15, “Each day we have the potential to make progress towards Dr. King’s dream.”
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step,” as Dr. King once said.