Clarence B. Jones, the former personal counsel, advisor, draft speech writer, and close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., visited the Nueva Upper School campus on Tuesday, January 15 – what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday – to share his life experience and inspire students and faculty. Dr. Jones assisted Dr. King in drafting the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” and his iconic “I Have a Dream,” speech of 1963.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in 12 years, did more to achieve political, social, racial justice than any other single person or event in the more in the previous 400 years of history in the United States. In summary, he was one bad dude.”
"Except for Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Martin Luther King, Jr., in 12 years, did more to achieve political, social, racial justice than any other single person or event in the more in the previous 400 years of history in the United States. In summary, he was one bad dude,” said Dr. Jones. “I am confident, without fear of contradiction, that Martin Luther King Jr. would still be just as concerned with the racial injustice epidemic today, and specifically gun violence, as he was 50 years ago.”
Dr. Jones was joined by Jonathan Greenburg, the Executive Director of the new Gandhi King Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco, who said, “Dr. Jones has been a forceful presence in the legal field, publishing field, and the media for the last 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination. When he goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning, all he thinks about is how to to carry on and honor Dr. King’s legacy.”
Students were riveted by the tales from Dr. Jones’ life and relationship to Dr. King, as well as the Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice in the United States, a focus of the morning. Following the talk, students joined their advisories to questions such as: “What would a society that truly tried to address everyone’s needs and well-being look like?” “What does it mean to have enough?” “What would economic justice look and feel like if wealth could be equitably redistributed?”
During the afternoon, faculty led workshops to explore topics including housing inequality, intersections of immigration and class, food access, reproductive health accessibility, the impact of mass incarceration, and more.
In hearing Dr. Jones speak, I heard his challenge for students to take the data and technology that is at their fingertips to make a positive change in our society, and I know that the trajectory of at least one student’s life in that room was changed by listening to Dr. Jones."
–Liza Raynal, Middle School Head
Dr. Jones implored students, “You must be concerned with how to take all the technology and communications tools available to you to deal with this injustice. Reflect on your own opportunities, your education, the knowledge you’ve acquired. What can you do to fix the two systemic problems in our society: gun violence and poverty? You could not tell me in this society of extreme wealth that there’s nothing we can do to help. You, young people today, I caution you not to go through the ritual of studying different subjects and issues unless you can think about a solution. I’d like to think, as I look out at you, that there’s a lot of collective brainpower in this room. That someday maybe a few of you will come up with a solution for these issues.”
“Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been thinking about MLK’s speech to junior high school students about “What’s in your life’s blueprint,” said Middle School Head Liza Raynal. “In hearing Dr. Jones speak, I heard his challenge for students to take the data and technology that is at their fingertips to make a positive change in our society, and I know that the trajectory of at least one student’s life in that room was changed by listening to Dr. Jones. Such a cool full-circle.”
In addition to the January 15 discussion, the Nueva community is also remembering the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, January 21 at the San Mateo Caltrain Station where there will be singing, sharing of student poetry and essays, and an honoring of civic leaders who are fighting for social justice. Following this San Mateo celebration, attendees will ride the MLK Celebration Train to San Francisco and march with other schools to Yerba Buena Gardens for an interfaith commemoration of Dr. King’s vision and messages.
To hear more from Dr. Jones’s visit with students, please watch this video: