Brian Gittens ’89

Forever changed how Andover celebrates MLK Jr. Day by peacefully protesting classes in 1989.

In January 1989, Brian Gittens, who was a senior at Phillips Academy at the time, made a bold decision to engage in a personal act of civil disobedience. Instead of attending his classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he sat himself down on the granite steps of Samuel Phillips Hall and played a recording of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech over and over on his boom box. It was an act motivated by his frustration over Andover’s limited recognition of MLK Jr. Day as a national holiday.

As the hours went by, dozens of students—and even some faculty members—joined him. By the end of the day, the message he was trying to send had been received. The following year, PA instituted its first annual MLK Jr. Day Celebration.

In the years since his graduation from Phillips Academy, Gittens has led and collaborated on the design and implementation of leadership programs, organization-wide diversity and inclusion programs, and competency assessments. He is currently the director of diversity initiatives for the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

At UVA, Gittens works collaboratively to implement the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan, which addresses recruitment of under-represented health professionals and students, community outreach and engagement, and issues related to health equity. Prior to joining UVA, Gittens had a 13-year Marine Corps career, serving in both the enlisted and officer ranks. He earned his B.A. in Communication Studies and his Masters in Public Administration from Virginia Tech. He also earned his doctorate in Higher Education Administration from George Washington University.

Twenty-five years after Gittens’ courageous act, Phillips Academy still doesn’t give its students the day off on MLK Jr. Day the way most high schools across the country do. Instead, as Head of School John Palfrey has said, “We take the day on.” 

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