Mount Vernon students participate in first of its kind MLK Day conference

Published: Jan. 15, 2018 at 1:45 PM CST
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Students in the Mount Vernon School District did not get Martin Luther King Jr. Day off, but in honor of Dr. King, one high school teacher and principal decided on a different approach to learning.

Monday, the entire student body focused on four words, connect, absorb, respond, and empower. That's what makes up the first C.A.R.E conference. Something stemmed from Teacher Leigh Ann Erickson’s Social Justice Course.

“The goal is to know people that are different from them,” Erickson said. “To learn from people who are different than we are so that that fear can be eradicated, so we can start looking at people with compassion instead of judgment, instead of through the lens of bias.”

Students listened to speakers, watched performances, and attended breakout sessions. They focused on issues like discrimination, hate speech, spoken word, hip-hop, and more. Each giving students and guests something to take away with them.

“I think the whole point of this is just to educate people you know, there are problems and people can say there are problems, but people here don’t really understand what those problems are,” Junior Sam White said. “We’re the next ones to go out into the real world, often times ideas stay the same because parent’s ideas go to the students, so I think our job is to change the views at a young age so then the world can change.”

“In small Mount Vernon, Iowa, I think people don’t always see the racial injustices or racial diversity,” Senior Cassie Kaminsky said. “I think that’s something hard to understand, as a white person.”

“Right here in Mount Vernon, students are experiencing racial discrimination, students are being hurt by words, we need to stop that here so that students walk into the world and don’t take that with them,” Erickson said. “I want students to be unafraid to say I have bias. I have bias and I want to deal with that and I want to recognize that, and I want to face that, and I want to change that.”

Erickson said she hopes the conference can continue and grow. She wants to see it focus on other issues like women’s rights and immigration in the future.