For an hour on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 21, Nyle Fort spoke to upper school students about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, what it means to be an activist, and how young people can get involved in social movements.
Among the many resonant points Nyle—who is an organizer, minister, and scholar—noted was, “Social justice is a team sport. You can’t do it on your own. You’ve got to do it in a group.”
It was this sentiment that helped set the tone for the rest of the day’s programming, designed to explore Dr. King’s conception of justice and introduce Nueva students to young social justice activists.
“As we have for the last few years, we like to engage with who Dr. King was as an activist and organizer,” said Alegria Barclay, director of equity and social justice. “In order to achieve this goal, we look at the ripple effects of Dr. King’s legacy in contemporary society. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the nature of racial injustice today, we created a day focused on the criminal justice system, which is inclusive of mass incarceration and policing.”
Nyle presented three tangible ways for students to get involved in racial justice work:
- Create educational opportunities—such as book clubs, film screenings, and speaker events.
- Protest—”How did the institution of slavery get abolished?” Nyle asked. “It was not Abraham Lincoln. It was abolished by an abolitionist movement.”; and
- Build a sustainable movement by asking the questions, “What do you envision for the future?” and “What are you fighting for or moving toward in your activism?”
It was clear from the comments in the Zoom chat that Nyle’s talk woke up students and faculty alike.
“This was the best talk I’ve heard in years,” Sava I. ‘24 declared said.
Pascal D. ‘22 wrote to Nyle, “Thank you for this incredibly ‘palatable’ repackaging of Dr. King’s legacy and your experience.”
Following Nyle’s keynote, students had the option of attending one of eight concurrent workshops led by Nueva faculty members and outside experts:
- Petey Greene Prison Tutor Program
- Legal Injustice: How Federal Policies Mandated Segregation
- The Black Power Movement of the 1960s
- Law and Order Politics from the Great Society to Reagan’s America
- Observations from Working with Young People at San Francisco Juvenile Hall
- Poor People’s Justice: Gideon v. Wainwright and the Right to Counsel
- MLK’s Theology of Justice
- Gestures of Justice: A Poetry Workshop
“While the narrow focus of the day was on the criminal justice system, the questions we really asked students to think deeply about were, ‘What are the many ways to conceive of what justice is and what are the approaches and avenues to getting to justice?’” Alegria added. “So we brought in speakers who are younger—Nyle Fort, Micah Herskind, and Een Jabriel, among others—to have the students think about what youth activists are doing.”
The closing keynote speaker, Micah Herskind, spoke about his work in the criminal justice abolition movement.
“We brought Micah in to push the envelope,” Alegria explained. “‘Abolish the police’ was a really popular poster during the Black Lives Matter protests, and we wanted students to better understand what this rhetoric means from someone who is actively working toward that.”
The feedback Alegria received from students and faculty about Micah’s closing keynote was overwhelmingly positive. Alegria shared that one student wrote, “So rarely do we at Nueva disagree with each other.” It was incredibly refreshing to have so many people disagree in a way that was respectful, engaged, and intellectual.”
Another student reflected, “I think that the way in which Micah shared a relatively radical view and engaged with opposing views and hard questions in a very respectful way was a great model for helpful and respectful discussion.”
“Micah was really impactful,” another student wrote. “His radical thoughts around abolition really forced me to think about my own beliefs and some of the preconceptions I have held around the prison and justice system.”
“Micah’s talk was a successful way to end the day because it left everyone thinking, asking questions, and wanting to engage with one another,” Alegria said. “I even heard from a parent who said, ‘Wow! My teenager doesn’t usually talk to me about their day, but today they had a lot to say.’ We are an institution dedicated to critical thinking and this talk had students thinking really critically about this issue.”