Xiomara Hall ’92 Reflects on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy and the Value of Service

This past Wednesday, January 13, Xiomara Hall ’92 spoke to the community at school meeting for Lawrenceville’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). Hall’s speech was the first of four events in the new community service initiative led by the MLK Day Committee for Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021.

This past Wednesday, January 13, Xiomara Hall ’92 spoke to the community at school meeting for Lawrenceville’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). Hall’s speech was the first of four events in the new community service initiative led by the MLK Day Committee for Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021.

While at Lawrenceville, Hall was a member of the Perry Ross, Stanley, and McPherson Houses. She received her BA from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and her Masters in Educational Leadership from Columbia University. Currently, she works as the Director of Middle and Upper School Admissions at The Chapin School in New York as well as a supervisor for the Student Global Leadership cohort.

Hall began her speech by reciting Langston Hughes’s poem, “Let America Be America Again.” After her recitation, Hall shared that the power of the word “yet” in the poem struck her, specifically Hughes’s invoking of “yet” when talking about how “America was not America yet.” Hall explained that she found “unmistakable parallels with [King, who] believed [that] for America to be truly great, it would have to keep its founding ideals as promises to [all], no matter their historical disenfranchisement.”

Following her discussion of Hughes’s poem, Hall transitioned into a reflection on current political events, sharing that she was still in the “place in-between.” She explained that this “place in-between” was analogous to the “place of yet” that Langston Hughes wrote of in his poem. Despite her belief in hope and eventual common ground, Hall said the hope that she had been hearing since the events on January 6 was “a way to gloss over the patterns and responsibility of recognizing the past” instead of being “rooted in facing history to learn from it.”

Hall then reflected on King and his words on service, community, and hope. She emphasized that King implored people to remember that the “ultimate goal of service is to build a beloved community.” King’s impetus for service, she explained, was not using hope to avoid the past, but instead that we could keep our promises for the future as long as we honestly faced our past.

“Service isn’t about charity [or] philanthropy...The end result [of service] is reconciliation, redemption, beloved community, [and] the type of spirit and love that can transform oppressors into friends...overwhelming love that doesn’t seek return–the only love that may well be the salvation of our civilization,” she said.

Hall then encouraged Lawrentians to be “deliberate in [their] quest to get to the bottom of understanding history [and] to understand and challenge your own mindset of service to be of service to others.”

To that end, she asked community members to think on the following questions when engaging in service and discussion: “What will be your service? What stories will you elevate that are unheard? How will you disrupt the system? What healing and grieving will you make space for, not rushing away from history but deliberately moving towards it?”

At the conclusion of her speech, Hall returned to the concept of the place in-between, stating that although she was still in the place of yet, she knows that she will return to hope. “When I return to hope, I will have a new song to sing myself,” Hall said, finishing her speech with a performance of “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone.

Reflecting on Hall’s speech, Kylan Tatum ’21 said, “I really enjoyed Ms. Xiomara Hall’s speech, specifically how she challenged common misconceptions about [MLK]. MLK Jr. is one of the most misunderstood figures in history, and his legacy is often molded to fit more moderate narratives. Through a masterful combination of poetry, song, and analysis, [Hall] inspired us to truly live out MLK’s Jr. legacy, not the one that is frequently commodified and oversimplified for the sake of American comfort.”

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