From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope: Celebrating Dr. King’s Legacy

As we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on MLK Day, I want to take this opportunity to share with you how I will celebrate his life and legacy. 

For me, it’s deeply rooted in Dr. King’s commitment to social justice and the sacrifices he made to pave the way for many of us and inspire us to dedicate our lives to the service of others and in creating a “Beloved Community.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., attended segregated schools in Atlanta and left Booker T. Washington High School at the age of 15 to study medicine and law at Morehouse College in 1944.

Through his teachings of love in action, Dr. King has given us six steps to social and interpersonal change as articulated by the King Center here in Atlanta:

1. Information Gathering — To understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution you must do research. 

2. Education — It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstandings and gains you support and sympathy.

3. Personal Commitment — Daily check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. 

4. Discussion/Negotiation — Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. 

5. Direct Action — These are actions taken when the opponent is unwilling to enter into, or remain in, discussion/negotiation. 

6. Reconciliation — Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. 

These steps continue to motivate me in all levels of my work. 

In the spirit of Dr. King’s message of nonviolence, a growing movement dedicated to the social and emotional learning (SEL), and the academic well-being of children is reshaping learning and changing lives — and the foundation of education — across America. 

In fact, as a Commissioner for this national movement, I was honored to attend and participate in the final meeting and national release recently of the final report of the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development titled From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope. At the meeting, the commission shared this culminating report on how to improve American public education. It is an impressive report that thoroughly addresses how we can better serve our young people based on brain science and whole child development theories.

From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope asserts that our nation is at a turning point, understanding that social, emotional, and cognitive development underpins children’s academic learning. This breakthrough of understanding how people learn is fueling a growing movement to educate children as whole people, with social and emotional as well as academic needs.

In the report, we emphasize that helping students develop skills like collaboration, empathy, and perseverance, requires systemic change. It offers specific actions in research, practice, and policy to fundamentally shift how we teach children, with the understanding that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are mutually reinforcing rather than distinct.

The research also outlines evidence that confirms that supporting students’ social, emotional and academic development has a positive impact on their attendance, test scores, success in college and careers, and overall well-being. This approach also improves students’ feelings about school and makes schools safer.

Here are the key action steps recommended in the report:

  • Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success to prioritize the whole child.
  • Transform learning settings so they are safe and supportive for all young people.
  • Change instruction to teach students social, emotional, and cognitive skills; embed these skills in academics and school-wide practices.
  • Build adult expertise in child development.
  • Align resources and leverage partners in the community to address the whole child.
  • Forge closer connections between research and practice to generate useful, actionable information for educators.

Nearly 100 organizations have signed on in support of the report’s conclusions and recommendations as part of an ever-widening coalition committed to advancing the work. Drawing on input from more than 200 scientists, youth and parent groups, educators and policymakers, the report seeks to accelerate and strengthen efforts in local communities.

As the school district of Dr. King, APS takes very seriously our role to not only educate our students but to empower them to become part of an engaged citizenry. Our students learn about Dr. King’s legacy throughout the school year in lessons, activities, and events. From kindergarten through high school and through our Social Studies, U.S. History, and Language Arts curricula, our students explore not only the figures of the Civil Rights Movement, but they also look at the social, political, and cultural factors that contributed to the movement.

APS is using SEL to help our students better understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. As we prepare our students for success in college and career, SEL is teaching the skills that Dr. King embodied.

One of the rich lessons we’ve all learned from Dr. King was about equity and the equitable treatment of all mankind. That lesson hasn’t been lost on our Atlanta Board of Education or on this APS administration. I am working with our Board of Education to better understand the equity issues we face in APS and to respond to those issues effectively.

The Board’s Equity Task Force has defined equity as strategic decision-making, with the goal of remedying opportunity and learning gaps, and creating a barrier-free environment, which enables all students to graduate ready for college and career. The community’s voice on this issue is a critical part of shaping the current definition and the future work on this issue that is happening in real time.

As part of developing an equity policy for APS, we’re seeking to understand, disrupt, and dismantle patterns and structures of institutional bias that create disparities and perpetuate achievement gaps among students.

On Friday, I attended Governor Kemp’s first proclamation ceremony which he issued in honor of Dr. King’s legacy. Dr. Bernice King, the youngest child of Dr. King, accepted the proclamation on behalf of the King family. In it, Governor Kemp reminds us that Dr. King was a man of great principle, who advocated peaceful social change throughout his life.

The proclamation states in part: Around the World, Georgia shines as a beacon of opportunity for individuals from all walks of life. Our international recognition is a source of tremendous pride, but Georgia’s greatest treasure is her people; and certainly, no Georgian is more worthy of recognition and celebration than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK Day is truly a day of service designed to empower us, strengthen our communities, and encourage us to create solutions to our social problems. It’s the time to shine a spotlight on service as a powerful force that bridges economic and social divides – today and throughout the year. 

Whether you plan on grabbing a paintbrush, mentoring a young person, helping clean up a public space, or, like me, starting or being part of a national movement, you are helping take us from a nation at risk to a nation at hope, while we celebrate and honor Dr. King’s legacy and move closer to his vision of a “Beloved Community.”

Happy MLK Day, my be❤️d APS and Atlanta! 


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