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Exploring Conscious Citizenship on MLK Jr. Day

Katie Coakley
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Emma Willard School held a two-part program to inspire students to reflect on their place in the world as they strive to become more conscious citizens.
On Friday, January 18 the community welcomed David Canton, Ph.D., director of the Africana studies program at Connecticut College, to present N Word: History, Hip Hop, and Context, in which he shared the history of the N word and its use in popular culture, from its origins in the 1800s to present day.
He quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to highlight why words and context matter: “A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.”
Dr. Canton described how the N word has changed since it’s origination in the 19the century, when it was used by free blacks to describe poor blacks, and by whites to criticize other whites. He challenged students to consider the roots and context when using charged language in their own lives.
Students returned to Kiggins on Monday morning to hear from Jamia Wilson, an author and activist who has traveled the world speaking about feminism, race, social justice, youth empowerment, women’s leadership, and social media.
She led a morning presentation on the topics of social justice, race, youth empowerment, and identity, and asked students to consider the many things that would be possible if we were to work together. She discussed how to be an effective ally, imploring students to release their feelings about patriarchy and white supremacy and embrace the opportunities to make decisions that progress advocacy in the space and access available to us.
In an afternoon session, the school community watched the movie The Hate You Give, which tells the story of a teenager who must constantly switch between two worlds: the poor, largely black neighborhood she lives in and the wealthy, mostly white prep school she attends. When her best friend is shot by a police officer, she is forced to speak up for what she feels is right against all odds.
The movie was a great discussion point for the community and transition to a collaborative community art project in Dietel Gallery where girls shared their thoughts on how to be conscious citizens in today’s world.
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