Jessica Aybar, principal of St. Athanasius School in The Bronx, is clear-eyed on this Martin Luther King Day: “We, as a society, have not yet accomplished King’s dream.” But she’s even more emphatic with her conviction that her school community is part of that dream. “Though he calls it a dream,” she says, “we are called to make it a reality. It becomes reality with each action that we take to be inclusive, welcoming, just, and kind. These are themes we talk about all the time.”
“The real hope for this,” she adds, “lies in our students.”
That hope shines in a project that St. Athanasius students and teachers have worked on for a week. They have assembled their voices to proclaim Dr. King’s dream as their own:
Today, against the backdrop of national turmoil, the children of St. Athanasius shine with the faith they inherit from Dr. King:
…and they call for freedom to ring:
Ms. Aybar, along with Dean Fiona Chalmers and their team, are ensuring that Martin Luther King Day at St. Athanasius isn’t about a single speech; it’s not even about a single day. Inclusion, welcome, and kindness are themes that are explicitly reinforced and woven into the school’s norms every day, and in the last week, Ms. Aybar explored them through a number of prisms, including a school-wide read aloud of Lisa Mantchev’s Strictly No Elephants, a story about acceptance…
…and through study by every student from Kindergarten through eighth grade of religious icons, particularly featuring those Biblical stories reinforcing themes of solidarity from the Middle Ages to the modern work of artist Kelly Latimore, like this one:
Through these explorations, St. Athanasius students receive the rich, diverse cultural inheritance that is their American birthright. They receive affirmation that the most hopeful aspirations they hold are not lonely wishes but widely held visions others are willing to work for too. And the school community maintains a wealth of commonly held reference points for the quest they undertake every day to fulfill the dreams that Dr. King and the school’s own families share—dreams of children flourishing and contributing to a community where all collaborate to “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood” and sisterhood.
When those of us who support St. Athanasius’ work watch these determined, hopeful faces talking about King’s dream and their own, we cannot help but feel what King refers to earlier in the speech: “the fierce urgency of now.” The tomorrows our students dream about are not far off; the harmony and opportunity they seek will not just somehow work themselves out. Perhaps hearing these familiar words proclaimed by our students’ voices can renew our zeal for the efforts we undertake every day “to make justice a reality for all of God’s children” now, as Dr. King calls us to do.
See the full video the St. Athanasius community put together here:
For the full text of Dr. King’s speech during the 1963 March on Washington, click here.