Last Friday, the Govs community took a break from the regular academic day schedule to listen to an engaging talk about restorative justice, participate in grade-specific workshops, and listen to an inspiring musical performance.
The day opened with Dean of Multicultural Education Eddie Carson, who gave an overview of the plans for the day and reflected on why our community spends a day each January learning about and practicing the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black-Latinx Association Co-Head Lissy Portorreal ‘26 introduced Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, a professor of Anthropology at UMASS, Amherst who delivered a talk entitled, “We’ve Got to See It Through: MLK and the Arc of Restorative Justice” in the Bergmann Theater in the Wilkie Center for the Performing Arts.
Using a thoughtful mix of frankness and humor, Battle-Baptiste talked about how our society doesn’t remember how radical King was. King’s history, like that of many other leaders, has been sanitized in how we think about him and in a way that is different from reality. She urged the Govs community to connect with the radical King and learn about him as a full individual. “We need to push the envelope on how we think about Black and white, like we are pushing the envelope on gender. Let’s move beyond binaries,” said Battle-Baptiste.
Battle-Baptiste discussed the interrelationship between capitalism and racism. She shared an excerpt of King’s final speech in Memphis, Tennessee, given to striking sanitation workers: “Strangely enough, this world is all messed up, the nation is sick, trouble is in the land.” She urged our community to think about the “5 Rs” of restorative justice: relationship, respect, responsibility, repair, and reintegration.
After Battle-Baptiste’s keynote, students convened into grade-specific workshops. Ninth graders elected to participate in one of seven workshops led by Govs faculty and staff members. Topics included: Social media and the women's movement in Iran, understanding privilege, transformational leadership within civic engagement, anthems of protest, and songs of social justice. Sophomores built bikes for children in foster care. Before dividing into groups of four to build the bikes, students heard from Danielle Maloney, Director of the Haverhill Office of the Department of Children and Families; Pam Newcombe, a foster parent and mom of faculty member Jenna Anderson; and Tara Driscoll, Founder of Fostering Care, Inc. The women dispelled myths about foster care and explained why the bikes that the students were building are so important to the children who will receive them.
Juniors and seniors engaged in collective performance and artistic notions of social justice work. In small groups, juniors explored images depicting acts of justice in a world of injustices. Students critiqued each photo for its visual clues and messaging. Members of the Govs arts department led the juniors’ program. Seniors wrote lyrics to an instrumental beat by advocate and multi-talented artist Dennis Everett and his team. Students sought to find their voice and purpose in thinking about social justice, and, in the end, they recorded and produced a music video.
The day concluded with a musical performance by The First who sang ““Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord,” a spiritual hymn by Undine Smith Moore. Traditionally spiritual hymns were sung by enslaved people as a way to strengthen, empower, and share messages among Black people. Director of Choral Music Declan Siefkas explained why the group sang the spiritual hymn and the importance of putting this type of song in a correct emotional and historical context.