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Social Justice Week Kicks Off Continuing Seminars and Service Events Throughout the Year

Kelly Slonaker

Canterbury’s Social Justice Week brought students, faculty, and members of the local community together for seminars and educational events inspired by the three tenets of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life: faith, service, and social justice.

Five seminars were offered through the week that covered a broad range of social justice topics, each of them inviting open and honest discussion and encouraging continued engagement. Dean of Students Jake Dellorco noted, “The purpose of these seminars is to create the space for us all to consider a specific social justice issue a bit more deeply. While MLK Day and Social Justice Week are opportunities for us to focus in, we hope that these discussions, seminars, speakers, and service projects will open the door for continued conversations and work in the weeks and months to come.”

The seminars began on Tuesday, January 14 with a discussion on Human Trafficking presented by the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury. Through the seminar, students gained a better understanding of human trafficking issues on a local and global scale and learned ways to get involved nationally and within the community.

Thursday, January 16’s seminar on Environmental Justice was led by the Sustainability Club and science teacher and Director of Sustainability, Cammy Roffe. The seminar investigated how environmental issues like pollution can disproportionately impact people from different demographics, and students discussed solutions to combat the issue.    

To honor Dr. King, Canterbury participated in the MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 20, with several local volunteer initiatives facilitated by the Center for Spirituality, Service & Justice. School Meeting opened with a special prayer by Father Pat Conroy, 60th Chaplain of the House of Representatives, and a presentation on the life of Dr. King. Throughout the day, students donated food and decorated lunch bags with notes for Camella’s Cupboard, a New Milford organization whose mission is to provide all children in the town with year-round access to food; donated and boxed up books for New Haven Reads, an organization that seeks to increase the literacy skills of children by providing individually tailored one-on-one after-school tutoring, educational family support, and a community book bank; and also helped plant seedlings for Canterbury’s own chicken and butterfly gardens. MLK day concluded with the week’s third seminar, which featured a screening of the Academy Award-winning documentary, A Time for Justice: A History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Led by the History Department and the CSSJ, the seminar closed with discussions about the struggle for equal rights under the law, how that struggle was waged, and the importance of the civil rights movement in United States history.

Tuesday, January 21 held an interactive seminar called ‘True to Self: A Reflective Workshop’ which was organized by one of Canterbury’s affinity groups, AHANA (an affinity group for students who are of African, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American descent). The workshop was run by Sixth Former Venessa Okoroanyanwu and faculty member Raheem Logan ’12. The workshop introduced students to the bystander effect and encouraged students to reflect on when they would speak up in a variety of challenging situations. 

Social Justice Week closed with a final seminar entitled: ‘Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: A Workshop on Building the Courage to Voice Your Opinion While Hearing Others’. The workshop was led by JiWon Lee ’20 and Tray Alexander ‘20 with the help of Ms. Mulhern’s Race Theory class, and was based on the words of Dr. King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” In the interactive seminar, students were challenged to decide where they stand on various topics while considering how to actively listen to the opinions of those who they may disagree with. 

Though Social Justice Week has come to an end, it launches numerous other workshops, presentations, and service opportunities throughout the year that will address social justice topics. Director of the Center for Spirituality, Service & Justice and Theology Teacher, Tracy Garcia-LaVigne, noted, “Though we highlight specific seminar opportunities surrounding MLK Day, we encourage students to honor Dr. King’s life and legacy every day by encouraging them to continue to seek out opportunities to become more others-centered. By engaging the students outside of the classroom, we hope to further inspire and foster a culture of social engagement through faith, service, and justice initiatives throughout the year.”
Some of the other upcoming events include the Holocaust Day of Remembrance on January 27, End the R Word Campaign, and the Special Olympics CT Penguin Plunge on February 9.