My name is Yolanda Ransom, and for the past two semesters I have had the pleasure and opportunity of being in the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy CUNY Corps group. During our group retreat last December, we brainstormed to come up with our idea of how to honor and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day. We decided to create an event that we called “A Piece of Peace.” Since a huge part of Dr. King’s goal was to bring about peace among people, rather than racial and ethnic division, our aim was to bring a ‘piece’ of Dr. King’s message of peace to a group of young students.
Some of our members are current students at City College or former students of the A. Philip Randolph High School. So we decided to launch our 1st annual “Piece of Peace” event there. We focused on selecting students that had shown leadership skills and worked with their administrators to invite these specific students. Although we originally planned to do the event in January when Dr. King’s birthday is legally celebrated, that was not possible due to scheduling issues. So when we were offered the opportunity to hold it in March instead, we jumped at the chance.
So, on March 11, 2014 we held the first “Piece of Peace” with about 100 or so eager students. We started off with lunch and provided a delicious spread beforehand (no one wants to learn, or do anything on an empty stomach, right?). Afterwards, we introduced our group and its purpose for being there.
Next, we did an exercise designed to help the students become aware of and recognize how automatically we stereotype one another based on physical differences and/or labels. All of the students formed 2 long lines facing each other. While one student held a label (which they couldn’t see) up to their forehead, the partner facing them would ask them questions associated with the label assigned to them. For example, one student had the label “CEO.” Based on the perceptions, stereotypes and assumptions that automatically come to mind, the student facing the ‘labeled’ one would say things that either did/did not result in the ‘labelee’ figuring out what their label was, and whether it is generally viewed positively or negatively in society. The students really enjoyed doing the exercise.
We wanted the students to gain a greater understanding of Dr. King and what he was all about. So we gathered many of his lesser known quotes to share with the students. Most of the students admitted that they know Dr. King for his “I Have a Dream” speech, but not much else. Here, I and my fellow Malave members are introducing this part of the event:
The quotes were shared in small groups where the students read and discussed them. They described how the quotes applied to them, society, and their futures as leaders. Both the students and Malave members were deeply engaged in the discussions.
Then, each group selected a spokesperson or two to present their collaborative ideas to everyone.
For the final part of the event, we explained to the students that they were the first group ever to participate in the “Piece of Peace.” To commemorate the event, each student would place their thumb in paint and ‘sign’ a dove image that we had brought. The artwork would then be framed and displayed at the A. Philip Randolph High School as a collective symbol celebrating Dr. King and our shared experience that day. This is when all the students got super excited and began cheering, whooping and clapping! They all gleefully lined up to ‘sign’ the dove onstage.
Each student and everyone in attendance also received a colorful wristband that read “I Have a Dream” and “A Piece of Peace” on it to take as a gift and reminder of the day we all spent together.
Here is the ‘Piece’ of Peace Dove that the students will proudly display at their school:
It was a wonderful day for both the CUNY Corps group and the A. Philip Randolph High School students. We gave and took from one another in a positive spirit of learning and up-building and everyone left very happy. The students shook hands, hugged and thanked us for coming. And we returned the love and thanked them for letting us spend a few hours with them. This first event got off to a great start, and it can only get better from here!