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Jan 25, 2017 | Anne Marie Becka

Living The Dream: St. Stephen’s Celebrates MLK Day



A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together. This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a big house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together — black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn, somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

On Monday, January 16, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by exploring how to achieve his dream for a better world. This special school-wide event included interfaith speakers, musical and dance performances, and thoughtful discussions on a variety of religious belief systems and racial injustice.

“One of the great things about St. Stephen’s is that we’re welcoming of all faiths and traditions,” said Christine Aubrey, associate head of school for advancement, who conceived of the idea for the special MLK Day celebration with International Program Director Sarah Todd during a “Peace Education Through Religious Pluralism” seminar in India last winter.

“We want St. Stephen’s students to understand all faiths and what unifies them,” Aubrey said. “In his World House speech, Dr. King said that if we cannot learn to live together in peace, we are doomed. That message is still so relevant today relative to racial justice and religious acceptance.”

“We believe in change through education,” Todd added. “Most world conflicts are rooted in fear, so our objective is to teach students not to fear people who are different from themselves. Our MLK Day celebration is just one of the many ways we educate students about what connects us to others. We help students move beyond the superficial to a place of real, authentic relationships.”

The day’s programming was designed to help students lean into discomfort by identifying and discussing both overt and subtle discriminatory beliefs and behaviors. Students also explored the ways in which racial and religious discrimination affects individuals and society as a whole.

A highlight of the MLK Day event proved to be the special morning Chapel featuring Jayant Lal, former associate headmaster of The Doon School in Dehradun, India, who now serves as executive director of the Shri Ram Group.

“There are many countries, many religions, many languages, diverse cultures, different physical attributes spread out around the globe,” he said. “If the entire human race starts searching for their roots, they may end up pointing to one or another civilization — whatever or wherever we originated from, we are from the same source.

“More than 3,000 years ago, a concept originated in the Vedic scripture Maha Upanishad (Chapter 6, Verse 72): ‘The entire earth is but one family,’” Lal continued. “This statement is not just about peace and harmony among the societies of the world, but also about a truth that somehow the whole world has to live by the same rules like a family, set by an unknowable source. Just by contemplating this idea and by at least trying to live by it and practice it in our lives, we could make this world a better place.

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other,” Lal explained. “What could lead us into that happy and tolerant way of life is that we are all looking for hope.”

Following morning Chapel, students broke off into small groups to discuss a wide range of issues, such as why people have racial and religious prejudices, how different people can live in harmony, how to find hope in a violent world, white privilege and micro-aggressions, moving past stereotyping and mere tolerance to acceptance, and overcoming the fear of others. In between group discussion periods, students attended performances by Atash World Music and Tapestry Dance Company.

The day culminated with the different student groups coming together to hold Red Bench sessions in the dining hall. Led by Simone Talma Flowers, executive director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas and a member of St. Stephen’s board of trustees, the Red Bench is a unique dialogue program designed to address one of the most pressing needs of our time: improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in our society. Put simply, they are moderated, small group discussions held in a respectful and safe environment. Participants are invited to share their personal experiences and listen with their hearts while others speak their personal truth. The program was difficult, informative and moving to all who participated.

St. Stephen’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration was designed to promote the values of our school and ideals of our founder, Bishop John Hines: peace, justice, understanding and equality,” said Head of School Chris Gunnin. “I am proud of our school and excited that our students and staff had the opportunity to use this special day to grow, learn and strengthen our bonds. No doubt, this day initiated many important ongoing conversations among members of our school community.”