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MLK Panel 2024

Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Emma is a time of reflection, growth, and community. It is a call to action and a time to recommit ourselves to creating the world in which we want to live. From a panel discussion with alums of color to equity workshops covering topics from codeswitching to LGBTQ+ issues to environmental impact on communities of color, the day was full of conversations about creating Dr. King’s vision of the “beloved community.”

Associate Director of Equity and Inclusion Gemma Halfi welcomed the community to the day’s activities with a challenge to engage our “radical imagination,” a concept introduced to the Emma community last year by author and educator Dr. Ruha Benjamin. Dr. Benjamin encouraged us to craft the worlds we cannot live without as we dismantle the ones we cannot live within. 

“Dr. King was no stranger to imagining and crafting the world he could not live without,” Ms. Halfi shared, highlighting his vision of the “beloved community.” She further explained his vision, quoting, “In the beloved community, poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of interconnectedness.” 

This introduction led into the panel discussion, “Black Voices: Our Journeys After Emma,” featuring Chudney Sykes-Preston ’96, Joshunda Sanders ’96, and Colette Cottman ’88, facilitated by Yuri O. ’25 and Anyla L. ’25. The panelists were invited to share wisdom from their time at Emma Willard School and from the distinguished careers they have pursued since. They reflected on their own thoughts about humanity’s capacity to embrace and create King’s “beloved community.”

“The beloved community was a very optimistic, hopeful idea,” said Colette. “You can look at it idealistically and think, well, this is impossible—no rainbows and unicorns here. However, in spaces and situations where people are open-minded and want to lead with love, it's possible. But it takes intentionality.”

The importance of intentionality and a willingness to continue the work that has been embarked upon was threaded through answers from each of the panelists. “We certainly have the capacity to make the beloved community real,” said Joshunda, acknowledging that it will take time to achieve that reality. 

“Every generation has to take up that challenge and fight for it to continue,” Chudney added. “It's not automatic, and it does require work.”

Later in the panel discussion, Colette answered a question about the journey that organizations and individuals take in embracing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) and how to know if the work they are undergoing is effective. “In order for them to have equity and inclusion in that sense of belonging that we heard about, it has to be embedded in the fiber of the being of the organization,” she answered. “And in order for that to happen, there has to be a groundswell that comes from leadership. It has to be ubiquitous. That takes time. It takes changing minds,” she continued, underscoring the importance of synthesis in intentional work from both communities and individuals.

Each of the panelists finished with a word of advice to Emma students:

Joshunda Sanders ’96 speaks on MLK Day

“My biggest advice to all of you is that you have everything that you need within you to be successful. There's nothing outside of you that you need more than your intuition.”

Chudney Sykes-Preston ’96 speaks on MLK Day

“Be joyous. There's a lot to be serious about and be earnest about, but don't let anything or anyone steal your joy.” 

Colette Coleman '88 speaks on MLK Day

“BE, KNOW, DO. BE: Be your authentic self. Be proud of who you are. Acknowledge that there are people who will want you to be something else if you make them uncomfortable. But stand your ground. Be who you are. KNOW: Build your knowledge. Knowledge is power, but curate your experience and knowledge base. Choose what you consume. In this digital age, there's so much coming at you all the time. (Don't spend four hours on TikTok. Don't do it!) DO: Act on what you say you stand for. BE, KNOW, DO.”


Head of School Jenny Rao closed the discussion with her thanks to the panelists, reflecting, “At Emma Willard, where we have the privilege, the honor, the opportunity to build our own intentional community, there are moments and times like today where I feel we touch the world that ought to be.”

The remainder of MLK Day was spent engaged in small gatherings, learning about and discussing topics related to various equity issues presented by members of the Emma community. The excellent sessions covered wide-ranging topics, including:

  • Afrofuturism in Literature: Black Leopard, Red Wolf, presented by Zaniyah A. ’24 and Liz Q. ’24

  • Art as Activism: Unveiling the Stories of the Civil Rights Movement Through Photojournalism, presented by Audrey F. ’25

  • Beyond Babel: Linguistic Studies and Personal Experiences of Non-Native English Speakers, presented by Anya K. ’25 and Candy L. ’26

  • Blood on Our Hands: Periods, Contraception, Abortion, and Sexuality in Politics, presented by Eden K. ’27

  • Breaking Barriers: Codeswitching and Bilingualism, presented by Renata L. ’26 and Keya M. ’26

  • Breathing While Black: Confronting Environmental Racism & Injustices, presented by Roz K. ’25, Levi L-A. ’25, Jiaqi F. ’25, and Carly H. ’25

  • Complexities in Cultural Identity Through the Lens of Hong Kong, presented by Angela K. ’24 and Grace S. ’26

  • Eclipsing Fear: The Significance of the Forgotten Black Presence in Horror, presented by Yuri O. ’25

  • Environmental Justice and Indigenous History, presented by Maya J. ’25, Coco Y. ’25, and Nini Y. ’25

  • “Give Us the Ballot”: The History of Voting Rights and Activism, presented by Isabella B. ’24, Charlotte L. ’24, Nadia M. ’25, and Emma S. ’24

  • History of the Perception of the LGBTQ+ Community in India, presented by Bhoomika L. ’24 and Mehar S. ’24

  • How Bias Shows Up in Artificial Intelligence, presented by AS Computer Science Students

  • Navigating the White Space: Amplifying Stories of People of Color in White-Dominated Spaces, presented by Ms. Kristen Mariotti

  • Pronouns 101: How To Be a Good Trans Ally, presented by Eli H. ’24, Margarette H. ’24, and Feliks W. ’24

  • Redefining American, presented by Paloma L. ’27

  • Redlining, Law, and Economics, presented by Dr. Adam Gailey

  • Sex-Ed: A History of White Supremacy, presented by Ms. Evangeline Delgado

  • Unboxing the “Perfect Black Person,” presented by Sol H. ’24 and Vernette B. ’24

  • “Who Am I to Judge?”: The Complexity of Christianity and Queerness, presented by Maggie R. ’25

Reflecting on this year’s programming, Associate Director of Equity and Inclusion Gemma Halfi noted the large variety of topics from the community: 

“We've used the format of the equity workshops for the past few years, and this year, we overwhelmingly had the highest number of workshop proposals we've ever had. Students have been inspired by other workshops in previous years, and I love that they immediately start thinking about future possibilities for their own presentations. We have something really special in our school community culture—the perfect combination of a willingness to share stories and an inherent curiosity to see through the lenses of others. It's a beautiful foundation for diversity, equity, justice, and inclusion work.”

See SmugMug for more photos from MLK Day 2024.

Beloved Community art installation hanging in the foyer of Kellas

The Emma community shared their own visions of the “beloved community” in an art installation that is now hanging in Kellas foyer.

 Chudney Sykes-Preston ’96 bio
Joshunda Sanders '96 bio
Colette Cottman ’88 bio

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