While many kids in New York City will surely revel in the day off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 22 eighth-graders will not only honor his legacy with a march on the Upper West Side, they’ll also speak out about current civil justice issues.
Monday’s march is planned by the oldest students at Manhattan Country School (MCS), a progressive pre-K to eighth grade institute founded in 1966 that focuses on equality and sustainability.
Each eighth-grader spent much of the first half of the school year planning the school’s 30th annual march, which has the theme “A New Revolution: Youth and Social Change,” and working on speeches they will deliver on topics ranging from DACA and Islamophobia before and after 9/11 to sexual assault and climate justice, while keeping King’s lessons top of mind.
“He just kept striving for what was right, and now we have some sort of equality. It’s not perfect, but we’re getting there. It’s up to us and our generation,” said Asad Syed, 14.
From a young age, MCS students are encouraged to form — and discuss — opinions and be active members of the community. Many have attended not only the school’s MLK march but also some of the protests and rallies held in the city over the past year and a half.
“All the kids from MCS have taken to activism in some way,” Aaron Wright, 13, said. “MCS plants that seed in your brain early about how you have to do the right thing and fight for your own cause.”
Talking to the students, it’s easy to forget, given their awareness and thoughts on current events and social issues, that they’re in their early teens and not college age. Though young, the future is something they’re already thinking about.
“I think that we’ll all be activists in the future because it was planted in most of our brains when we were young, and now we’re learning constantly about social issues, especially about our president,” said Christina Strachn, 13.
When asked one thing they would like to say to President Trump, nearly all said, “Just one?”
Lily Pleven, 13, would tell him to “listen to what the people want and do that,” while Syed would urge him to “think about everybody, not just the people in power and people with wealth.”
Monday’s MLK march, which starts at the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument at Riverside Park and 72nd Street at 10 a.m., gives students “a sense of agency,” said Tom Grattan, who has been teaching seventh and eighth grade English at MCS for 13 years and guides students through their speechwriting. “Many students who have come back over the years talk about this as a transformative moment for them. It feels really relevant and shows them how they can have an impact.”