QCSD gearing up for first MLK Day of Service

By Gary Weckselblatt

The Pennsylvania Attorney General is scheduled to attend the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in the Quakertown Community School District.

The event is set to kickoff in the Quakertown Community High School cafeteria the morning of January 21. Josh Shapiro, the Commonwealth's chief law enforcement officer, will be joining our students in the Philadelphia area.

"Our first MLK Day of Service is going to be an exciting time, where each of our student volunteers learn that by helping others they are a welcome part of Dr. King's enormous legacy," Superintendent Dr. Harner said.

High school English teacher Rachel Girman has helped organize much of this project, chairing meetings with students, faculty and the administration. She created the digital sign-up sheet that can be found here and the MLK Day of Service site.

While some events will be held in the cafeteria, students and adult chaperones will also volunteer at off-site places such as Allentown's Sixth Street Shelter, the Share of Food farm in Philadelphia, Family Service Association of Bucks County, Hope Against Heroin, Phoebe Richland Retirement Community, the Quakertown and Trumbauersville food pantries, LifePath, First Church of the Brethren, and Pennridge FISH.

Following the meal, volunteer will also hear from keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Gregory James Edwards, an MLK scholar. Dr. Edwards is founder and Senior Pastor of the Resurrected Life Community Church in Allentown and President and CEO of the Resurrected Community Development Corporation. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Martin Luther King, Jr. College of Pastoral Leadership at Morehouse College, for his exemplary leadership in advancing Martin Luther King's Beloved Community. Morehouse also honored Dr. Edwards by inducting him into the college's prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers.

Mr. Shapiro brought together students from Cheltenham and Quakertown last April 11 to pay tribute to the slain civil rights leader on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Cheltenham and Quakertown were chosen because of an incident following an Oct. 6, 2017 Cheltenham-Quakertown football game at Alumni Field, when Strayer Middle School students shouted abusive epithets at Cheltenham's cheerleaders.

The Attorney General called the incident "a moment of opportunity." Dr. Harner agreed. "Having the courage to have a conversation about our differences is probably the most important thing this nation has to do today. This is vitally important to me."

Former Philadelphia Mayor Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode also spoke. Goode, 81, said he began his life as a sharecropper on a North Carolina farm, "one step from slavery. All my ancestors were slaves. I understood what Dr. King was trying to achieve." He advised students to never use the word "minority" when referring to people. "It means less than," he said. "There are no minorities in terms of humans."

Since the racial incident, the Quakertown Community School Board and Administration have taken steps to turn an ugly situation into a positive. The Pearl S. Buck Foundation was hired to bring its system-wide diversity and inclusion initiative to the district. The foundation has assessed 400 employees as part of "The Welcome Workplace" program, in which professional trainers and staff are working with district leadership and stakeholders to build individual and group intercultural competency.

The district has started a Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The committee is analyzing the district's mission and vision statements, discussing our community's changing demographics, learning about how we can make our infrastructure even more equitable for every student, and starting work on our strategic plan. This meeting is for all interested administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community members. All are welcome!

The Peace Center has taught its curriculum of diversity and acceptance to all QCSD fourth graders, and will do so again this year. In addition, Dr. Harner held a dinner for parents of African-American students to hear their concerns and explain district plans moving forward. "I have apologized for our greater community," Dr. Harner said. "Our community has had a ton of courageous conversations. It was a great teachable moment."

QCSD's first MLK Day of Service will build upon that theme.

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].

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