Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation

Gilman students, faculty, and staff gathered together in the arena to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the School’s annual MLK Convocation on Thursday, January 12. Interim Director of Community, Inclusion, and Equity Joe Valentine-White ’07 welcomed everyone, and Ahmir Crawley ’23, co-chair of the Black Student Union (BSU), gave an invocation. The Middle and Upper School string ensembles, led by Director of Music Ariel Dechosa, played “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” a hymn that was one of Dr. King’s favorites.

Head of School Henry P. A. Smyth gave remarks, pointing out that the Civil Rights Movement “was a critical moment in American history in which people stood up against injustice” and the leading role that Dr. King played in those efforts. He focused on a particular chapter in a 1963 book by Dr. King, “Strength to Love,” in which he emphasized the importance of loving our enemies. Smyth reiterated Dr. King’s ideas to love our enemies by practicing forgiveness, recognizing that there is good in all of us, and seeking to understand and befriend enemies rather than put them down. 

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend,” Smyth read from the book. He ended with Dr. King’s powerful words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” He encouraged students, faculty, and staff to shine their lights to brighten the world and drive out the darkness of injustice.

Following Smyth, Glee Club Director Robby Ford alongside Director of Middlemen and Treble T’s Liz Sesler-Beckman led those groups in a lively song, “I Sing Because I’m Happy.” Then, Director of Upper School Jazz Band Cheryl Nkeba conducted as the band played “A Change is Going to Come.”

BSU co-chair Marcus Walker ’23 gave an introduction to keynote speaker Karlo Young ’97, noting his many accomplishments since leaving Gilman, which include being recognized for his leadership and philanthropic efforts by several organizations. Young is senior vice president and portfolio general manager at leading edtech firm 2U. He is also president of the Board of Trustees for the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust (B.E.S.T.) and vice president of the Board of Trustees at Gilman.

Young gave an inspiring speech, encouraging students and adults to take time for introspection and self-reflection, or, for the younger folks: “Look inside at your thoughts and your feelings.”

He pointed to a quote by Saint Augustine: “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.” Though Dr. King is, of course, widely revered now, Young said, “Broadly speaking, Dr. King was the most hated person in America when he was alive.” He tied this paradox to an example closer to home: “We are sitting today in the Redmond C. S. Finney Athletic Center. And Mr. Finney [Gilman Headmaster 1968-1992] — when he worked to integrate the School, there was a lot of pushback. Today, Mr. Finney is very much revered. But at the time, not a lot of people were on his side.”

Young continued sharing ideas upon which to reflect, concluding with the notion that we all have a responsibility to create a just society.

Co-chair of the CIE Council Noah Parker ’23 introduced the Treble T’s and Traveling Men, who sang what is often referred to as the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with an explanation of the song’s significance. “I ask that you pay close attention to the lyrics. It’s a song about having the tenacity to transcend perpetual difficulties.”

BSU co-chair Tremont Henson ’23 gave the benediction to conclude the event. Watch the full convocation here.