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    About 400 years ago, the English poet John Donne penned these famous words:
    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

    Thus did Donne pay homage to the power of community. Many others over the years have found their own ways of expressing how important it is for human beings to connect with one another, especially so today, four centuries later, in a world characterized by speed, work and, too often, isolation. 

    DanehyIn Cambridge, once a year we gather for Family Day at Danehy Park. For seven years running, I have worked with colleagues from the City, somewhat behind the scenes, to welcome residents of all ages to spend a few hours together in the sun-splashed park, where kids can go on rides, adults can gather information about various City services, and people can just be with one another on a happy, carefree Saturday.

    My particular assignment at this annual event, held just this past weekend, is to man one of the giant charcoal grills, where I and my fellow “chefs” cook 1,700 hot dogs, which are then given away free to anyone who wants one. A small community of hot dog grillers, bun stuffers, and potato chip distributors develops closeness under the tent at the entrance to the park. We joke about our well-honed barbecuing techniques and compete with one another to see who drops the fewest dogs onto the ground.

    When the food runs out, I love to stroll up and down the hill through the park and just watch people having fun. Everyone seems to be in a good mood, and it’s so pleasurable to chat with adults and children, all of whom are part of this amazing community. It truly is an honor, and a blast, to serve Cambridge in this quite different way and to feel the powerful sense of community, where we all are “a part of the main.”

    * * *

    Today I had the pleasure of attending the 70-year reunion of the Cambridge High and Latin School Class of 1945.  About fifteen members of the class gathered together to reminisce and re-connect.  These women and men were happy to tell me stories when I asked them “What made high school special for you?”

    I heard about the creaky floors in the building and about the day, during their freshmen year, when they heard, over the school’s public address system, that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.  Mostly, however, they told me about their teachers.

    They recalled a Ms. Butler, a Mr. Gibson, a Mr. Derry, and a Ms. Kelley, among others.  They told me that what made these teachers so memorable was that they cared about them as students.  Every person there said pretty much the same thing about how much their teachers meant to them and how they still, to this day, remember how they made them feel in school.

    Time has no boundaries.  Community transcends geographic coordinates and temporal activities.  The common life experiences these folks shared, they share again today. 

    * * *

    This Thursday, the Cambridge Public Schools will not be in session as the district pauses to recognize Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim Holy Day.  Back in 2010, the School Committee voted affirmatively to add this day to our school calendar in recognition of the diversity of our community and in support of CPS’ core value of social justice.  Cambridge is home to many Muslim families, whose children are respected members of our community. 

    When the issue of including this holiday was up for discussion, I met with a group of Muslim students at CRLS who told me that they at times felt “invisible” in the school and in the city.  They loved their school and wanted to feel included and valued in real and symbolic ways. 

    CPS became a national leader in community-building, inclusive practice, and social justice by honoring their request.  I am thankful to the School Committee and the many citizens who supported this change to our school calendar, even though it brought with it a backlash of hate-filled communications from individuals around the country.  I look back on those emails today and think that they, paradoxically, affirm the goodness of our decision.  I keep on the bulletin board in my office this note that I received along with a plate full of sweets:

    “Dear Dr. Young,

    During the celebration of Eid, it is a customary tradition to share desserts.  We offer you this dessert in the spirit of celebration and as a token of our heartfelt gratitude for your support.  You provided us with the opportunity to share our pride in the richness of our culture, and to educate the entire community about a part of our lives that up until now, we had kept to ourselves.  Eid is about celebration and we would like to take this moment to celebrate you and offer you our deepest thanks for everything you have done for us.

    We hope you enjoy,

    CRLS Muslim Students”

    Posted by jyoung On September 25, 2015 at 9:35 AM