“‘I know that what I’m asking you is impossible,’ civil rights icon James Baldwin told his nephew in 1963. ‘But in our time—as in every single time—the impossible is the very least that one can demand.’”
The conclusion of Dr. Nyle Fort’s all-school speech brought members of the Blair community to their feet on Friday and induced thought-provoking conversations across campus that lasted through Monday, as the nation celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. No stranger to the hilltop, Blair Academy welcomed minister, activist and scholar Dr. Fort back to speak with students in honor of the day and to share the message that we must complete, not just commemorate, Dr. King’s vision of building a beloved community.
“We have to dream, and we have to do the work to make the dream come true,” Dr. Fort urged.
Dr. Fort, who received his PhD in religion and interdisciplinary humanities from Princeton University and teaches at Columbia University, engaged Blair’s students during his presentation, offering up more than just a lecture.
“Think of this talk like a buffet,” Dr. Fort said at the beginning of his speech. “I’m going to put some food on the table, and I’m inviting you all to sit at the table with me.” As the analogy continued, Dr. Fort explained that some topics discussed will resemble buffet dining—some options students may love; some students may be unfamiliar with—but he assured the crowd that, by the end, they would all find a way to gather at the table as one.
Dr. Fort set the stage by describing the freedom struggle that made the emergence of Dr. King possible. Throughout his talk, he stressed to students the importance of fulfilling Dr. King’s mission and that, despite all of his struggles, “King never lost hope of the possibility of creating heaven on Earth.” He explained that, as a society, we can’t create change without first changing ourselves. “The goal is not to be right about the wrongs of the world,” Dr. Fort said. “The goal is to right the wrongs.”
Dr. Fort’s visit to Blair did not end with his conversation in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts’ DuBois Theatre. After a brief question-and-answer session with the entire school body, Dr. Fort visited several J-term classes to keep the discussion going in smaller groups. He sat in the “Development: Mirrors and Mentors” class, where students spent the week learning how to take action, develop grit and stay motivated toward a goal, and followed with the class examining the art of effective presentation, offering valuable skills on how to engage audiences and gain confidence through practice. Before sitting down to lunch with members of Blair’s student-led Belonging and Equity Committee, Dr. Fort joined in on further discussions in the “Incarceration Nation: A Critical Look at the U.S. Prison System” class.
“Personally, I think Dr. Fort helped paint a clearer picture of Dr. King’s work,” Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Evan Thomas said. “His conversation was a great introduction to programs Blair is planning for Black History Month in February, and I hope students left inspired, curious and energized to consider ways we can work to fulfill the vision of Dr. King and others.”