Although no in-person celebrations could be held this year, Tracy Unified School District still found its way to honor and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Coordinated by TUSD Board Trustee, Lori Souza, administrators from around the district, joined by Tracy Mayor Nancy Young, came together at Gathering Place Church in Tracy to discuss the legacy of King and how his lingering presence impacts society today. The special pre-recorded broadcast of "Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service" was released Monday evening on the TUSD website to coincide with the holiday.
Souza said that traditionally TUSD and the Tracy African American Association partnered up on the holiday with an annual breakfast that included hundreds of community members in attendance. But with restrictions from COVID-19 still in place, any in-person events were still at a halt.
"This opened the question, what do we do now? I was not content with sitting idle while the day to celebrate MLK, Jr passed. My vision was to bring a panel of TUSD leaders together to speak to our students about MLK, Jr. and his vision for all people," said Souza. "It was also time that students heard from TUSD, so we brought everyone together in an intimate setting. It was the integrity and insight of panel members that made me believe that we could lead a positive conversation to our students. I was inspired by the leaders we have in our community to create the MLK, Jr. panel."
The discussion was led by Kimball High School Assistant Principal David Doyle, who led the panel on a list of topics that linked King's teachings and achievements to the social functionality on TUSD campuses.
Joining Doyle, Souza and Young on the discussion panel were Williams Middle School Assistant Principal Brittani Ryan; Tracy High Assistant Principal Lynn Hawkins; TUSD Director of Student Services and Tracy Independent Study Charter School Principal Dr. Mary Petty; TUSD Associate Superintendent Dr. Rob Pecot; and Stein High School and Duncan Russell Community Day School Principal Traci Mitchell.
Before introductions took place, Mitchell read a list of "Did you know?" facts about King, highlighting the fact that King was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and that he is the only non-president to have a U.S. national holiday dedicated to him.
"He often spoke about function of education. 'Teach to think and think critically,'" said Mitchell. "He reminds us often you are accomplishing much more than you can see at the moment. It is in his honor, we take this time to reflect."
The group took those words to heart when partaking in the evening's talk:
How would MLK feel if he were here today?
Though the panel acknowledged that there were social pressures and disparities that still existed today, they largely agreed that King would have been impressed by the diversity he would have seen on school campuses since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
Before the movement, segregation was a social norm and co-mingling between people of different ethnic backgrounds was, not only uncommon, but largely frowned upon. It was during this time that King spearheaded pivotal events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and the March on Washington in 1963 that aimed for equality amongst Whites and Blacks.
"If he was to be next to me, and he walked on our campus today, I think what he would see if a lot of diversity. I think that he would see all kids — It doesn't matter what age or color. It doesn't matter whether they're athletes or whatever," said Hawkins.
Hawkins reminisced that even going as far back to the mid-90s, when he first started working at TUSD as a security guard, the social setting was still more gang-oriented, and a person had to be careful of what parts in town they were walking in.
Souza shared the sentiments and added that working toward diversity and inclusion was still an ongoing process.
"Have we come further in history? Yeah, absolutely we have. But do we still have something to work on? Yes, absolutely. And that's why we're today," she said.
Pecot doubled down and said that today's students served as good role models for adults and could teach their elders about the act of being inclusive. He said that he witnessed it constantly while walking on campuses and continues to be impressed.
"The inclusion that I see amongst students — man," he said, shaking his head for emphasis. "If us as adults could do that, I think that we would be far better off."
What from King's legacy should be instilled in leadership roles?
Reflection, love, perseverance and fairness were a few of the attributes shared from the panel that they felt characterized good leadership and were traits they felt were a good representation of King as well.
"One thing I try to drive into our staff is that this is their community, this is our parents' community, this is our students' community, and they have a right to come get whatever assistance they need, and we need to do the very best we can," said Doyle. "I kind of pride myself on treating people fairly and trying to meet their needs to the best of my ability no matter race, color, class — doesn't matter."
Young noted that King's boldness was a trait that inspired her. She touched upon King's wisdom and thoughtfulness when he spoke, mentioning that he didn't speak to be quoted but said what needed to be said, regardless of the consequence, and that's why his words still carried substance.
She alluded to King's push for non-violence and encouraged others to be thoughtful with the intent of their actions while still making a statement.
"To be able to take to heart his position of influence — and all of us have positions of influence," Young said as she addressed her peers. "What are we doing with them? Are we bold enough to stand up and say what needs to be said when it needs to be said. And do we have that integrity where we're thoughtful about the things that we say and how we translate that to other people."
What do you do as a leader to invoke change?
Hawkins spoke up first on this topic, mentioning that he has a passion for helping struggling students and taking them under his wing. He said that an important factor in this was to be genuine in your response.
"For me, it's that relationship. If you're talking to a student, they know if you're fake or not. But if you talk to them with your heart, you can change lives," said Hawkins.
The panel reiterated sentiments that patience and being willing to put in the time were pertinent in their leadership roles and that they looked for the trait in others whenever doing new recruitment. They advocated for showing kids that they care and for taking mistakes and turning them into teachable moments for students instead of "throwing the book at them."
"Building relationships is really important to me. I want my students on our campus to know that I'm in their corner. And I'm here to encourage them, got to bat for them. And just really let them know that I'm there," said Ryan during her time to speak.
"One of the things I'm very passionate about is being a positive role model. I think students need more positive role models. That's always been big to me...I want to bring more unity on campus with our community, with our students. I think that's really big. And then together help our students reach their goals so they can succeed."
What is your dream for students?
"I think really, for all students, my dream is that, at some point, they hit that moment where they realize their passion and their purpose in this world," said Petty, who understood that this did not always come easily for young people.
She attributed part of this increasing social pressures brought on by networking outlets like social media and other distractions.
"I definitely think that it's important for us to help encourage and develop the seed of what is inside of you that is going to do better for the world or the people around you," she said.
Mitchell wanted to see every one of her students graduate.
"Because once they graduate, it cannot be taken away. They've earned that," she said. "And it's always something they can look back on and say 'I did that." And so, with that, they can build."
How does TUSD celebrate its African-American students?
"Deep down I feel I have a personal responsibility to my African-American students to make sure I am positive role model to them. To assist and support them and move them in a direction to stay in pace," said Doyle.
With a bit of playful prodding from Pecot, Doyle talked about TUSD's eighth-grade African-American Celebration of Achievement that he said has been going on since before he started with the district 13 years ago.
"It's a really nice event. It's held at the end of the year. All of the eighth-grade African-American students are nominated by their teachers, their principals, their staff. And it's just a way to acknowledge and kind of help segue them into high school," he said.
The event gives students a chance to meet some of the faculty from TUSD high schools as well as members from the Black Student Unions.
"It's an amazing experience to make them feel acknowledged and for them to share information," said Doyle. "It's empowering. And that made me think of how Dr. King wants to empower the community."
The full hour-long video can be found at https://www.tracy.k12.ca.us/.
• Contact Brianna Guillory at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-835-4229.