Studying Our Past & Understanding Our Present: The MLK Symposium

Wednesday’s Peace March. Image courtesy of Antonella Dominguez

Staff writers for The Grace Gazette shared brief observations on their experiences attending workshops during the three-day MLK Symposium in January.  The following reports were collected from their multiple perspectives. 

Miranda C.H. ‘24 reported on “How Did America Get So Messed Up? (Politically)” led by Micah W. ‘26.

I never thought that high schoolers would be able to switch between watching clips of Majorie Taylor Greene’s bizarre outbursts and heavy discussions about political polarization. However, after attending a workshop by Micah W. ‘26 on political polarization in the United States, I learned that my assumption was very much incorrect.  As someone who is equally fascinated and intimidated by American politics, I loved hearing Micah and other attendees’ perspectives on the future of political polarization. Specifically, many attendees emphasized that to reduce political polarization, lawmakers and constituents need to make political decisions based on policies, not because they’re Democratic or Republican. One of the attendees, Addie E. ‘24, particularly connected with Micah’s point that “this is the most politically divided our country has been since the Civil War.” In an interview with Micah, he explained that the goal of his workshop was to “explain why we’ve reached this absurd point of political polarization” and make strides towards “normalizing discussions about politics at Grace.” Next year, Micah plans to continue fostering conversations about politics by starting a politics club at Grace. With the November election only months away, students will undoubtedly appreciate a place to process and receive reliable information about the current state of American politics.  

Zamira F. ‘24 reported on Ms. Wood’s workshop, entitled “Rest Is a Necessary Act of Liberation” 

On Jan. 18 at 1:00pm, I entered into 227, ready to indulge in something I was in desperate need of: rest. “Rest Is a Necessary Act of Liberation,” led by Kallan Wood, was a symposium to remember. In this symposium, Ms. Wood taught about the idea of active rest, the idea of rest as something important and necessary in the act of social resistance. We learned about the heavy burden carried by women of color in this society solely based on their identities, and how this burden can be lifted and eased by active rest. We then discussed the impact of stress on our own lives and how the nature of our capitalist society impacts our own perceptions of rest. Lastly, we practiced resting, journaling and participating in a meditation. Amaya S. ‘24 stated, “I was able to reflect on my lack of self care this past semester, and have realized that I need to prioritize my own mental health in stressful situations.” This symposium taught me similar insights. In an environment like this one, it can be easy to get caught up in work and the need to succeed. Ms. Wood taught through this symposium that rest is not the same as being “lazy” or “unproductive.” Rather, rest is necessary and liberating. 

The “Grassroots Grocery” workshop. Image courtesy of Christina Hultholm

Milo P. ‘25 reported on the “Dismantling Jewish stereotypes” workshop hosted by Ben S. ‘25 and Owen A. ‘25. 

Ever wondered how hateful and harmful stereotypes affect the Jewish community? Ben S. ‘25 and Owen A. ‘25 hosted a workshop that addressed the issue thoroughly, even in the 55-minute time frame.  On the first day of the MLK symposium, 14 students entered room 202 right at noon, ready for the informative session that was to come. Voices were quiet as we waited for the smartboard to turn on. This was a sensitive issue for many of us, with many stereotypes running rampant. From beliefs that “Jews control the media” to “Jews caused 9/11” being present in our discourse, the attendees were ready for everything. 

After a brief introduction where we discussed our favorite TV shows, the lighthearted portion of the presentation ended. We were then asked to read a few paragraphs on Jewish stereotypes from one book: Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book is the most widely distributed piece of anti-semitism in our times, being about a fabricated meeting of Jews to “take over the world.” This book created and amplified many of our modern Jewish stereotypes. 

After learning about the origin of the stereotypes, we transitioned to learning how to dismantle them. First off, we were told to watch suitable media. As journalists, we strive to produce the correct press, but when it comes to anti-semitism, both right-wing and left-wing media have at many times labeled Jews “greedy” and “money hungry,” and more radical sources have gone further than that. Make sure that what you are watching is the truth, and those around you don’t have a bias. Antisemitic tropes started with propaganda spreading, and we have to stop that spread to stop it.

Mason Z. ‘25 reported on the “Olive Branch” workshop hosted by Hallie R. ‘25, Mikail O. ‘25, Armaan A. ‘25, Sama E. ‘25. 

This year, one of the MLK workshops that I attended revolved around peace as a means and an end for the global community. Specifically, the “Olive Branch” workshop made one utilize cooking to think critically about how land, food, and culture intersect with peace efforts. If we are more amicable and less hangry, the world would be better for it. This symposium ran smoothly and efficiently and was a creative idea to boot. As Kate M. ’25 and I proudly proclaimed in tandem, “Peace is a practice; love is a mindset.”

“The Olive Branch” workshop. Image courtesy of James Casey

Nate B. ‘25 reported on the “Voter Suppression and Registration: Advocating for Change” workshop hosted by himself, Clementine M. ‘25, Stella E. ‘25, Willa C. ‘25, Sydney R-D. ‘25, and Tyler C. ‘25 

America has a voting problem. Many people can’t vote, because years of voter suppression have prevented people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Many who can vote, don’t vote because of false notions that their vote doesn’t matter or elections don’t affect them. 

I hosted the “Voter Suppression and Registration: Advocating for Change” symposium with my Lab Day Civic Fellows classmates, Willa C. ‘25, Sydney R-D. ‘25, Stella E. ‘25, and Clementine M. ‘25, as well as Tyler C. ‘25, in an effort to highlight these issues. This symposium provided examples of voter suppression throughout history, like poll taxes, literacy tests, voter intimidation, and gerrymandering. We also discussed the history of voting and when different groups were finally given the right to vote. Deep and detailed discussions allowed us to talk about civic issues people care about, why people don’t vote, and what we can do to promote positive change. Willa described how “Informing people about voter suppression was a great new experience and it felt good to contribute to the democratic process by promoting awareness.” 

We then went out into the community to make that positive change, albeit on a small scale, by passing out flyers to passersby with information about voter suppression, the importance of voting, and a link to how to register to vote. Juliette R. ‘25, an attendee of the symposium, explained: “I really enjoyed being able to go outside and hand out flyers to teach strangers about voter suppression. It was a great opportunity to encourage people to vote, and I learned a lot about why so many people aren’t registered to vote.” 

Young people in particular have low voter turnout, so we especially wanted to get young people involved through this symposium. We also thought it was important to show our community that we care so that people of all ages could see that not every young person is apathetic. Activities, even in small, local forms like this, can sprout positive change, and that is what we strived for.`

The “Voter Suppression and Registration: Advocating for Change” workshop. Image courtesy of Christina Hultholm

Sophia S. ‘25 reported on the “Israel and Hamas: How We Got Here” workshop. 

On Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, I entered room 326 prepared to join a discussion surrounded with controversy and personal ties.  Led by Toby Nathan, the history teacher,  and Micah W. ‘26, the symposium was a two part session named “Israel and Hamas: How We Got Here.”   Micah led this symposium because it is a prevalent topic and in his words, “it affects me personally because I am Jewish and have an inherent connection to Israel.”  As an attendee myself, I entered the room prepared for a fiery debate, secured in my own views and opinions. 

At the beginning of the symposium all participants were invited to talk amongst themselves, with the leading prompt of what is your biggest question surrounding this topic and then instructed on the norms the space would have. Micah in an interview expressed he imagined two different people walking into this space. The first person entering prepared to attempt to convince everyone to join their side of the debate and the second person Micah resonates more with, saying: “I don’t know much about this issue but I want to learn more about it so I can develop my own opinions.”

Dr. Nathan led a slideshow on a history of Israel, Palestine, and Hamas attempting to incorporate as much information in an hour on a complicated historical topic expanding back a century.  Micah said his goal for the historical background was to establish “a clear look at what has happened, how we’ve gotten to this point, and where we are going from here, because, I feel like the actual facts of this situation aren’t necessarily what is being spread online.” After part one of the workshop we were given a five minute break for people to take some time to themselves or discuss their opinions. Micah highlighted his favorite moment of the symposiums was during this five minute break, when  “Marni and Alex got into a little debate about it, and it started out kind of angry and then it kind of evolved into a very nuanced debate, and I would like to credit both of them for really making a series of super strong points.” 

As the second section of the symposium began, more and more students started trickling into the space, frankly, a few too many, and we realized there were no more chairs.  Everyone involved in the conversation was respectful and productively discussed questions posed by Micah, Dr. Nathan, and fellow participants. Micah hopes that this space normalizes being informed and having discussions about complex issues but in his words he doesn’t expect any of us high schoolers to be “political geniuses.”  

Wednesday’s morning MLK march. Image courtesy of Antonella Dominguez

Alejandro I. ’25 reported on the “Rethinking of Discipline in the Classroom” workshop. 

I observed the Rethinking of Discipline in the Classroom workshop led by Nyjah N. ’25 and Sydney G. ’25. It was very discussion-based, with big school figures MiChelle Carpenter and Tom James attending and admiring the conversations echoing around the room. Several prompts were given, all containing potential in-school problems ranging from a robbery to a fight. We were then told to discuss and formulate a way to handle this dilemma. The overall intention was to distance ourselves from the idea of immediate repercussions and take steps towards rehabilitating the students.

Rather than coming down on them immediately for their mistakes, we worked on narrowing down the root of the issue, allowing the problem to be fully resolved with no doors left open. A genuinely eye-opening workshop, the presentation left a lasting effect on those who participated. Ms. Carpenter, Grace’s director of operations,  commended the presenters, praising their ability to start a conversation and lead discussions. 

Cate H. ‘24 reported on the “Class Divide: Gentrification and Economic Disparity in West Chelsea” workshop. 

Lina M ‘24 presented a workshop about the class divide in Avenues. Avenues, a rather expensive private school in Chelsea, sits directly across from housing projects. In Lina’s workshop, she presented a documentary that explored the personal experiences of students at Avenues, and families living in the public housing complex across from them. 

Lina explained how it felt to be presenting, stating, “I found it interesting how many people were fascinated by the class divide documentary. I also enjoyed how engaged people were with the story.” 

Furthermore, Lina delved into what inspired her to lead such a workshop in the first place. She explained, “What really sparked my interest about the topic was when I watched the documentary in 8th grade. After coming to Grace, I began to realize how much Avenues parallels a school like Grace Church.”

Lina echoed the powerful message that became potent in the rather devastating ending of the documentary, Class Divide (2015). Lina solemnly said, “While we may not witness such a class divide directly in front of us, being in a school in New York City, we are submerged in these issues- whether we realize it or not.” 

Lina’s workshop provided an insightful perspective of an issue that is often not discussed in the educational system. Living in New York City, in many ways, there is a physical line between the two worlds. Whether it be the street between Avenues and the housing projects, or The High Line stretching between wealthy sky-scrapers and underfunded apartments, the importance of keeping an eye open to such a divide is extremely necessary.

The “Activism in the West Bank” workshop. Image courtesy of Rachel Mazor

Hallie R. ‘25 reported on the “Activism in the West Bank” workshop. 

Grace’s iconic MLK Symposium week continues to exemplify the “out of the ordinary” approach to education. The theme of the week is social justice and peace and this motif came up in workshops tackling many sorts of topics. Specifically, students Henry A. ’25, Mason Z. ’25, and Garrick S. ’25 led the workshop, “Israeli Activism in the West Bank,” featuring Rabbi Misha Shulman, where they discussed settler violence and activism in the West Bank in Israel. The three juniors kicked off the session with a historical presentation summarizing the history of the Israeli state and the conflict over the West Bank, Palestinian land, and Israeli occupation. Then, Rabbi Shulman, born and raised in Israel, spoke about his work in activism alongside his father, protecting Palestinian towns and the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank through quite literal “activism,” including putting his body on the line for the preservation of peace. 

Rabbi Shulman concluded: “The violence and instability in Israel and Palestine will not end until there is common respect and decency for the Palestinians on the Israeli side and Israelis on the Palestinian side.”

This workshop took place on Wednesday, Jan. 17, in Room 219 (Mr. Klebnikov’s room), which provides a round-table discussion environment perfect for a Socratic endeavor such as this workshop grappling with topics that are ever-relevant today.

Cassie B. ‘26 reported on the “Environmental Deceptions: Greenwashing” workshop. 

In Environmental Deceptions: Greenwashing held in room 313 from 11:00am-12:00pm, Caitlyn P. ’25 and Miles J. ’25 led a riveting workshop on modern companies taking advantage of consumers through sustainability. One company that was heavily discussed was Nestle,the world’s largest food and beverage company.  Nestle partakes in greenwashing, according to the presenters, and is one of the largest contributors to pollution. The class groaned in agreement as the company’s wrongdoings were revealed.

Zachary G. ’26, who had previous knowledge on the Nestle brand, charged: “They steal water from Africa! And then sell it back to them.” 

Sally P. ’26, questioned: “How are the average citizens supposed to know this about the brands?”

The presenters continued by sharing ways to identify greenwashing. One way to identify greenwashers is by reading the labels of the item. Some of these sustainable labels include: Certified B-Corporation, USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, Fair Trade Foundation, World Fair Trade Organization, Equal Exchange Fairly Traded, Fair For Life, and Fairmine. 

To conclude the workshop, our knowledge of sustainability was tested through a Kahoot. 

Liza Talusan’s keynote speech. Image courtesy of Antonella Dominguez

Fiona M. ‘26 reported on the “Credit in STEM and Who Gets it?” workshop. 

One especially informative symposium workshop entitled “Credit in STEM and Who Gets it?” was led by Su O. ‘25 in room 227 on Wednesday, Jan. 17 from 11:15am – 12:15pm. This workshop delved into the stories of people working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics who were not always given the credit they deserved. Su talked about Marie Curie, Katherine G. Johnson, Mary W Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Alan Turing, describing their contributions to the course of history and how they were often mistreated, stolen from, and disregarded.

Su’s goal for the workshop was to answer the questions: “How does society perceive people of unacknowledged contributions? Are they marginalized / peripheral or absent entirely?” and “What identities are credited with contributions to STEM, and which are unacknowledged?”. The workshop left those who participated in it with a stronger understanding of the people who have been brushed aside in STEM throughout history because of their identities.

For more Grace Gazette coverage of this year’s MLK symposium, see GraceCast Episode #60: Mr. Andre and Ms. Dominguez – Reflections on 2024 MLK Symposium.