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Words Into Action: No Day Off For Some Students On MLK Day

Martin Luther King Day was not a day off for around 50 high school students from Buncombe County.  They spent the holiday looking for ways to continue King’s legacy by tackling some of the most difficult issues facing society.

Kids form a circle in the auditorium of Asheville’s historic YMI Cultural Center, one of the oldest African-American institutions in the country.   Two girls in that circle read questions aloud as part of an exercise called ‘Common Ground.’  They start with light queries, like ‘is your favorite color blue’ or ‘did you like Hannah Montana as a kid?’  But those questions rapidly get more serious such as “Have you or anyone you’ve known had a problem finding a place to live?" or "Do you know where you could get drugs if you wanted to?"  The students don’t answer with their voices, but rather a step forward.  They then look around to see who also took a step forward, people with which they have common ground. 

Tracey Greene-Washington is the founder of CoThinkk, the group helping the students lead the discussion.  She explains what she wants ‘common ground’ to teach them "that they are not alone, that there are issues that are touching everyone’s lives regardless of race or gender.”

The circle breaks up and the kids get into smaller groups, but the discussions don’t end.  While sitting around small tables, they take on issues like gender identity, the school to prison pipeline, interacting with police, and STD’s.  Those topics are all part of the day’s theme – specific to the King holiday – which is ‘Unfold the Dream.’

“Martin Luther King really talked about this notion of collaboration and being cross cultural and having eclectic ideas to come up with the best solution”, says Greene-Washington.  In the end, she really wants these students to follow in King’s footsteps – take the words they’ve spoken on this day and form them into action.