The Courage to Fight for Change; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2020

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Do you have the courage to fight for change? This focusing question led our community for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Students and faculty questioned their ideas of passion, mission, and what it means to take action.

To lead us through discussion, New Hampton School welcomed back former faculty and Director of Total Human Development (1993 – 1999) Steven Davis to campus. Citing relevant current student life examples on campus, Davis engaged our community with a thoughtful discussion on leadership, courage, and responsibility. He also shared numerous images from history to connect these core ideas, illustrating the intersection of passion for change, leadership, and active protest through speeches, marches, and advocacy for one’s beliefs.

New Hampton students gather in front of the State House on MLK Day as part of a peaceful protest. Courtesy of the 1997 Belfry.

Spirit of Change

Davis’ own time on campus coincided with a critical time for civil rights in New Hampshire. The federal holiday honoring King was signed into law in 1983 by President Reagan and took effect in 1986. However, for a mixture of reasons, New Hampshire held off any recognition until 1991. And, even then, it observed the third Monday in January as Civil Rights Day, excluding the name of the civil rights leader.

Throughout much of the 90s, spirited protests were a hallmark of MLK Day in the capitol as citizens pushed for the holiday to be renamed. As Steve Davis’ recounted for a captive audience in McEvoy Theater, things started to gain traction. Davis shared that St. Paul’s School helped lead the charge for a march on the capitol, joined by New Hampton School, to affect change.

New Hampton School students and faculty perform for a crowd in front of the State House. Courtesy of the 1998 Belfry.

Students made signs of protest, boarded buses to the Concord State House, and engaged in a passionate display of support for change. For three years, from 1997-1999, our students participated in these protests. Governor Jeanne Shaheen in her 1999 inaugural is quoted as saying, “We cannot end this century without making Martin Luther King Day a part of the heritage we leave to our children.”* Finally, in June of 1999, the state joined the rest of the nation in observation of the federal holiday. And in 2000, New Hampshire celebrated MLK Day officially.

New Hampton School students and faculty join in peaceful protest to have New Hampshire recognize the MLK holiday. Courtesy of the 1999 Belfry.

Reflection and resonance

After Davis’ interactive speech at school meeting, advisory groups broke off to reflect on key components of the discussion. They considered what it meant to have a voice and to be “upstanders” for causes they believe in. They discussed the differences between being a detractor, an observer, a participant, a contributor, and a leader. Furthermore, how those tie into our community values of respect and responsibility.

While New Hampton School continues its community discussions on diversity, inclusivity, access, and equity, we also tied the conversations to our school theme of “All In.” The resonance of this theme has carried on from the first speech at Convocation in September through today. This reminds us all of the depth and multiple meanings in which we can go all-in for each other as a community—as friends, students, faculty and staff, as good neighbors to our town, and, most importantly, as active global citizens.


* Citation: NPR: NHs Martin Luther King Jr. Day Didn’t Happen Without A Fight

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  1. The Courage to Fight for Change | Institute of Human Relations

    […] Husky Nation welcomed back Steve Davis, former Director of Total Human Development from 1993-1999, in honor of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He recounted New Hampton School marching along-side @stpaulsschool to the NH Capitol to affect change and declare MLK Day a state holiday. He reminded students that they have a voice and challenged them to be “upstanders” for the causes they believe in.For the full story Click HERE […]

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