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Companies, consider these 20 dos and don’ts for MLK Day from Delaware high schoolers

Ten student leaders from public and vo-tech schools spoke out about how their schools can do Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month better. Their advice applies to businesses, too.

Atnre Alleyne hosting the Proximity Popup. (Screenshot)

Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month are fast approaching. Your company should be thinking about ways to engage with both, respectfully and productively.

TeenSHARP and Proximity Project founder Atnre Alleyne convened Black and antiracism-focused high school students on Tuesday to talk about events related to the holiday. Specifically, they discussed how they would like their schools to recognize the day — as well as the upcoming Black History Month — and how they would not.

The Proximity Project is a newly launched eight-week program for education leaders to examine and reform how they interact with and serve communities of color.

From that virtual “Proximity Popup,” made a list of dos and don’ts based on students’ feedback. As high school students, they were clearly talking about school environments, but some of these tips can apply to workplaces, as well.


  1. Make it about Black empowerment, not just trauma.
  2. Involve all students, and make it a celebration.
  3. Share stories from across the diaspora, including Caribbean, African and Afro Latino cultures.
  4. Include Black educators and administrators.
  5. If voluntary performances or readings are involved, they should be pre-vetted for cultural sensitivity.
  6. Bring in speakers from HBCUs, Black Greek organizations and Black-owned businesses.
  7. Be direct if there is pushback from students who aren’t interested in the holidays, but don’t expend too much energy on it.
  8. Talk openly about issues that impact Black students, such as code switching.
  9. Include Black student leaders in the planning.
  10. Include Black history in classroom curriculum all year round, including lessons on mass incarceration, redlining and lesser-known Black historical figures. And don’t limit these curricula to history, arts and English classes — be inclusive in STEM classes, too.


  1. Single Black kids out to talk about their experiences, in any environment, but especially in a predominantly white environment.
  2. Limit recognition of MLK Day/Black History Month to a mention in a morning announcement.
  3. Make it extracurricular — instead, incorporate it into the average school day.
  4. Make non-classroom events, like a performance, mandatory, or make participating seem like a chore.
  5. Use texts or read passages that include anti-Black racial slurs, which many Black students find traumatizing
  6. Use AAVE slang if you’re not Black.
  7. Play “devil’s advocate” when discussing things like slavery, Jim Crow or the Capitol siege.
  8. Talk about how you believe white slaveowners were “conflicted” over slavery or that they treated enslaved people well.
  9. Ignore that Black history doesn’t start with slavery.
  10. Pit historical Black leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, against each other.

You can view the entire stream of the event on the Proximity Project’s Facebook page.

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