'Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve'

Harpeth Hall students bundle diapers as part of a project for MLK Day of Service.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 26 years old the day he stood beside Rosa Parks and delivered a speech urging thousands in Montgomery to boycott the busses and continue “reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality.”

John Lewis was 25 when he led hundreds of marchers to the crest of Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday.”

And Diane Nash was 22 years old when she climbed the courthouse steps and impelled Nashville’s mayor to desegregate the city’s lunch counters.

“It’s really easy, when we look back at the Civil Rights Movement, to forget that the giants of American history — the men and women who led the march toward justice — were young,” Dr. Jessie Adams, Harpeth Hall’s public purpose program coordinator, told students on Friday morning before MLK Day.

“That reminds us that you have within you everything you need to make this a kinder, greater, and more beautiful place.”

A Harpeth Hall student carries of box of diapers for MLK Day of Service.

In honor of the upcoming MLK Day of Service, Harpeth Hall 9th and 10th grade students came together during community time to do just that. Students sorted, wrapped, and packaged diapers for the Nashville Diaper Connection, an organization that helps ensure all babies in Davidson County have their basic needs met with enough diapers "to stay clean, dry, and healthy."  In all, Harpeth Hall students bundled 17,728 diapers, which means more than 350 babies will receive a month’s supply of diapers.

“I hope people realize that even little things like diapers can have a huge impact on our entire community,” 10th grade student Maddie Meyer said as her classmates hustled back and forth behind her with arms full of diaper bundles. "By helping distribute all these diapers, we are helping to remember Dr. King's legacy."

'Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve'

Harpeth Hall students package diaper bundles for MLK Day of Service.

Enacted by Congress in 1994, MLK Day of Service calls on individuals to strengthen communities, bridge divides, remove barriers, and bring people of different minds together to move us all closer to Dr. King’s version of a “beloved community.”

Along with many others across the country, Harpeth Hall celebrates the national holiday as a "day on, not a day off.” Each year, inspired by the words of Dr. King, the school leads a service project on campus.

"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve," Dr. King said. "You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

Due to the ongoing pandemic, Harpeth Hall could not host a community-wide event on MLK Day this year. “However,” Dr. Adams said, “perhaps more than ever before, the school is committed to engaging students in tangible ways to serve our community and our neighbors.”

Before beginning the project on Friday, students watched a video clip of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In August 1963, the historic gathering helped forward the signing of the critical Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Harpeth Hall students watch a video clip of Martin Luther King's 1963 speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

“On a sweltering day, when tensions were running high across the country — not unlike now — over 250,000 people from all over the country came peacefully to Washington to march in protest,” Armistead Lemon, director of the Upper School, told the students. “Not a single arrest was made on this day. And this was the day that Dr. King gave one of his most famous speeches.”

When Dr. King took the podium that day, the charismatic young civil rights leader inspired the Lincoln Memorial audience and live television viewers with what has come to be known as his “I Have a Dream” speech. Both uplifting and penetrating, his words have resonated across the decades to reach this generation’s young leaders.

“I hope you heard his reference to soul force,” Ms. Lemon told the students. “SOUL. I love that concept. We are a soul force here at Harpeth Hall this morning, working together to spread light and love this January to others. Dr. King was about lifting up the spirits of others, and so we will do so today in his honor.”