QCSD celebrates first MLK Day of Service

Close to 200 stu­dents packed into the Quakertown Community High School cafe­te­ria this morn­ing, lis­tened intent­ly to a dynam­ic speak­er, and then braved the bit­ter cold in var­i­ous parts of Bucks County to serve their fel­low cit­i­zens.

The district’s first Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service — fol­low­ing a year of plan­ning — was a ful­fill­ing moment for those work­ing to make a pos­i­tive impact and inspire young peo­ple to do the same.

I’m real­ly proud you’re not just using the day to stim­u­late the econ­o­my,” said Rev. Dr. Gregory James Edwards, an MLK schol­ar and keynote speak­er who described him­self as a “rad­i­cal truth teller.” The rev­erend praised the efforts of teacher Rachel Girman, school psy­chol­o­gist Kevin Kelly and oth­ers for their “vision and tire­less efforts” in help­ing to make this day of ser­vice hap­pen. Mrs. Girman, advi­sor to Model UN and Mini-THON, orga­nized sev­er­al meet­ings with teach­ers, admin­is­tra­tors and stu­dents and was a cen­tral fig­ure in the MLK Day of Service accom­plish­ment.

Talk is cheap, actions speak loud­er than words,” Dr. Edwards said. “That’s why you’re all out here today. … Don’t quote (MLK’s) words and not be devot­ed to his work.”

By virtue of his back­ground, Dr. Edwards’ words hold sig­nif­i­cant mean­ing. He 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.

Dr. Edwards shared con­ver­sa­tions he’s had with his wife who “tells me no birth is pos­si­ble with­out pain and strug­gle. … What you’re doing by show­ing up today… you are start­ing the push­ing process. You are lean­ing in and push­ing.”

He said Dr. King was an “inter­rupter for jus­tice,” and encour­aged stu­dents to make their voic­es heard and to inter­rupt to stop the spread of racism, wher­ev­er they hear it — whether it’s at the din­ner table, fam­i­ly bar­be­cue, lock­er room, school hall­ways, class­room, water cool­er, church pews, or school board meet­ings.

He is absolute­ly cor­rect,” said QCHS senior Sara Vahdatshoar. “Opportunities to have these type of con­ver­sa­tions need to be more preva­lent. Days like this are fan­tas­tic, and will help bring the com­mu­ni­ty togeth­er.”

Speaking of her fel­low stu­dents, fresh­man Angelina Becker said, “It’s amaz­ing how all of these peo­ple, who could have been off relax­ing today, came here instead. It shows what we can do as a col­lec­tive, as a group, and how amaz­ing peo­ple in our school are.”

Students and teacher chap­er­ones vis­it­ed Family Service Association of Bucks County, Hope ReStored Thrift Store, Phoebe Richland Retirement Community, the Quakertown and Trumbauersville food pantries, LifePath, First Church of the Brethren, and Pennridge FISH.

In the high school cafe­te­ria, dozens of stu­dents per­formed sev­er­al acts of ser­vice. Many, includ­ing the chil­dren of teach­ers, packed plas­tic eggs for Quakertown’s Borough Easter egg hunt. Others wrote cards for vet­er­ans sta­tioned over­seas. And sev­er­al cre­at­ed recipe books and packed toi­letries for Laurel House, a domes­tic vio­lence agency in Montgomery County.

At Strayer Middle School, the Gay Straight Alliance,  through dona­tions from the school com­mu­ni­ty, made 90 care pack­ages for chil­dren unex­pect­ed­ly admit­ted to Grand View Hospital.

I’m proud of our kids, putting in the time to do real­ly impor­tant work,” Mrs. Girman said. “Our goal is to make it big­ger and bet­ter next year.”

Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner said he was grate­ful for the lead­er­ship of Mrs. Girman and oth­er teach­ers for mak­ing the MLK Day of Service so suc­cess­ful. “Today was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the world a bet­ter place, and our school dis­trict has done that,” he said. “We need to make sure we push this for­ward.”

The district’s efforts were not­ed in the media. Jamie Stover, a 2008 grad­u­ate of QCHS, cov­ered the event for WFMZ-TV. 6ABC Action News Philadelphia was also there, in addi­tion to WHYY-FM, The Intelligencer and Bucks County Herald. On Sunday, The Morning Call head­line stat­ed: “Year after racial inci­dent, Quakertown sees MLK Day as teach­able moment “

A racial inci­dent on Oct. 6, 2017, where two Strayer stu­dents shout­ed hate­ful words to Cheltenham cheer­lead­ers fol­low­ing a foot­ball game at Alumni Field, was the inspi­ra­tion for change on QCSD. Dr. Harner pledged he would not allow the sit­u­a­tion to go unchal­lenged, and his admin­is­tra­tion, with the sup­port of the School Board, devel­oped plans to turn an ugly sit­u­a­tion into a pos­i­tive.

It gave us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to stop, look in the mir­ror, and take a pos­i­tive step for­ward,” Dr. Harner said. “It was the cat­a­lyst to bring every­one in the com­mu­ni­ty togeth­er.”

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. On Monday, Dr. Harner said “It’s been a year of lis­ten­ing and learn­ing and engag­ing.”

As Dr. Edwards said to stu­dents, par­ents and dis­trict employ­ees, “There is no ZIP Code in our nation absent from the scourge of racism. … All of us have bad moments. And the chal­lenge is not to make you worst moment your most defin­ing mem­o­ry.”