SB Teens Lead Inaugural Event Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Creating a Culture of Kindness

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Thursday January 23, 2014

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope permeated the walls of South Burlington High School (SBHS) the morning of January 20, as over 100 community members (80 of them teenagers) gathered to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and honor his vision.

The event was special for several reasons: it was the first-ever MLK Jr. Day Event in South Burlington, and it was led by teenagers from South Burlington High School and F.H. Tuttle Middle School.Volunteers from a wide variety of student groups (including SBHS, Big Picture, PACT, Key Club, Coalition for Community Service, National Honor Society, Technology for Tomorrow, Peer Leadership, school sports, and more) as well as adult volunteers from the South Burlington Recreation Department, the South Burlington Community Justice Center, and PACT worked collaboratively to host the event. 

The day began with a message of inspiration from Dr. Charles Johnson, Safe Schools Coordinator at the Vermont Agency of Education, who was unable to travel in person to South Burlington from his home in Thetford because of the snowstorm but called in words for teen leaders Nirali Desai (SBHS sophomore), Janie Merrick (SBHS junior), and Neerja Patel (SBHS junior) to share.  “How might we create,” Dr. Johnson invited those in attendance to consider, “what Dr. King called ‘a culture of kindness’ – here today at our event and in the world when leave here?”

Kindra Lundie, a senior in Big Picture South Burlington, hosted a table with a banner where guests could answer the questions, “What are your personal dreams?  What are your dreams for the community and the world?”  Responses included the following: “I want to help someone achieve something they might not otherwise have been able to,” “My dream is to do more to have people feel included,” “Random acts of kindness.  Everyone has a story – let’s listen!” “My dream is for all of us to understand and truly accept one another,” “To foster a loving, safe, ignorance-free place where everyone feels comfortable being who they are,” “I have a dream that communities will operate more from a place of love instead of a place of fear.”

Small-group dialogue followed with teen leaders reporting that organizing additional multigenerational events, increasing opportunities to work with elementary school children, drawing greater numbers of community members to PACT events, and working more with local businesses were some of the most-often named ideas for dreams for the community.

Travis Kupiec (SBHS senior and Key Club President) then explained the community service project for the day: creating handmade cards with messages of support for children in the Vermont Children’s Hospital.  Well over one hundred cards were created to be delivered to children cared for by the hospital the week of January 20.

Teen leaders closed the morning with the following words from Dr. King:  “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”  They continued by noting, “Today we’ve all taken a first step together.  Before you leave, we invite you to take a second step.  Jot down single next step that you will take to make your dream for our community happen.”
Guests were asked to bring those notes to the second annual, teen-led Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Event in January 2015.

As one teenager gathered up her coat to head home, she said with a smile, “What a great morning!  I’m really glad I came.”

SOURCE: Susie Merrick, Contributor