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Reflecting on leadership ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day


I went up to the mountain because you asked me to. Up over the clouds to where the sky was blue. I could see all around me. Everywhere.

-  "Up to the Mountain,” Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin’s words, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech and sung on Friday by Harpeth Hall’s 8th grade chorus, commenced a truly inspirational all-school assembly recognizing the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

“There are many characteristics of Dr. King that are admirable,” assembly speaker Aidan Nettles ’13 said. “But the one I find most significant was his leadership.”

Ms. Nettles, a professional dancer and professor of dance at Alabama University, works to help her students grow into their potential. During her time at Harpeth Hall, Ms. Nettles felt that she was “really set up well for understanding womanhood” and she wanted to investigate more of what that meant as a black woman in the performing arts space. Through dance, she explores the intersection of black womanhood in the context of history, literature, art, and history. She finds inspiration in the qualities of leadership exhibited by Dr. King.

“Leaders are trailblazers. They are the ones who are willing to go first. They are the ones who chose to navigate the uncharted territories that many fear in hopes of enacting change,” Ms. Nettles said. “…Leaders get to choose how they handle fear. Leaders can either forget everything and run or they can face everything and rise.

“Because Dr. King did,” she continued, “I will.”

Ms. Nettles is committed to being a trailblazer in her field. Her goal is to lead from the front so that others will have a voice. In Friday’s assembly, she encouraged students to do the same.

“One of the greatest gifts of life is the opportunity to decide how we are remembered. My hope for each of you is that you decide to be remembered as a leader,” she said. Ms. Nettles defined the qualities of “leaders” in an acronym.


Listen to understand the voices of others.

Encourage others, lift others up, and offer them hope

Act upon what they say they were going to do

Dream and believe in others’ dreams, turning dreams into actionable goals

Earn their leadership through hard work behind the scenes

Read to learn

Serve their community

“Leaders are the light in the darkness,” she said. “They emerge in the darkest moments to create a burning light for others to follow. They give hope without allowing fear. They always act upon what they say they will do while elevating others in the process.”

Ms. Nettles encouraged students to start putting their leadership skills into motion by considering the national holiday in honor of Dr. King a “day on” rather than a “day off.” Through service to their community and actions, students can not only remember Dr. King, but honor his leadership.

“Dr. King is celebrated and remembered because of his leadership, because of his service, because of his advocacy,” she said, “and this is something to be cherished.”