Sixth-grade art students at the Sleepy Hollow Middle School joined an initiative to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memory by creating original artwork that visually represents their understanding of his core beliefs and values.
Each year the New York State Education Department sponsors an exhibition in recognition of the life and teachings of the civil rights leader, where students submit their artwork or essays to celebrate his birthday. Students are asked that their artwork illustrate Dr. King’s Six Principles and Steps of Nonviolence, while essays traditionally focus on the core ideas of social justice and nonviolence. All entries are viewable in an online exhibit through the NYSED website.
For the past several years, Andrea Harrison, Art Teacher at Sleepy Hollow Middle School, has been guiding her students, as they learn about Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence, while they create artwork that expresses their perspective on his teachings and how it is relevant in today’s society.
“I teach them the elements of art and how to manipulate them. There is dimension to artwork, and it is a bridge between a personal experience and the world,” Ms. Harrison said. “This was something that the kids could do to respond to human division, to respond to the world going on around them.”
Students were grouped together for the project to ensure they fully understood the mission, that working together despite their individual backgrounds can result in something beautiful. As a team they needed to create artwork that demonstrated one or more of Dr. King’s principles. “I liked that we came up with an idea together. It was a fun project, and I liked that it can influence someone to be a better person,” said Joel Hawkins.
Although it was a challenging task for the students because so many factors came into play, such as working in a group with varying opinions and ideals, it was a valuable lesson. “It helped me learn about teamwork and communication. We brainstormed, and we were able to communicate with one another. It also helped us get to know each other better,” said Sarina Onwe.
The purpose of the project was to ensure that the students understood that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day not only commemorates his birthday. It is also to remind all Americans of his dreams and goals for this nation, to give them an opportunity to take part in the celebration of Dr. King’s birthday and legacy in everyday life. It also is an opportunity to learn about the social, political and economic factors that contributed to the Civil Rights Movement.
The students found the project to be a way for them to express how they feel things should be. To communicate to the world a message they want to send. “It shows them that art isn’t just for the person who makes it. There is communication, effective and ineffective. It’s a rigorous process to translate a metaphor,” Ms. Harrison said.
In preparation, the students watched videos of Dr. King and read his works. They chose quotes that they felt a connection to. “I wanted my art to have meaning, to match the quote I chose,” said David Martinez. “The quote taught me that if a creative person could make art they certainly can make peace.”
The students understand that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work is not finished and they must carry on his teachings to make the world a better place. They found the project to be inspirational and a bonding experience. In the end, they made new friends and got to know each other on a deeper level.
“I’m going to do this every year. It’s important because there is a huge lesson to this, a value. King’s language is so poetic. He was a magnificent speaker,” Ms. Harrison said. “Love and peace is delicate. No one should hurt anybody. That’s the beauty in King’s message. It’s all about love, about loving everyone.”
To view the Sleepy Hollow Middle School artwork visit: New York State Office of General Services – Collections.
To learn more and view all artwork on display visit: NYS MLK Jr. Art & Essay Exhibition.