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  • Adam Schell

An Empty Chair

When you walk into Dan Gill’s classroom at Glenfield Middle School in Montclair, New Jersey, chances are you’ll notice the empty seat that sits in the center.

It’s not a time-out chair or a chair for an administrator to come and observe the class. The empty chair is a reminder. A reminder to Gill and a reminder to the students.

“Each year I teach lessons around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday about the Civil Rights movement,” Gill told TODAY Parents. “I wanted to connect the students in a personal way to what that meant.”

When Gill was nine, he said, he and his best friend Archie went to a birthday party in Gill’s New York City apartment building. Gifts in hand, the two boys — Gill, white, and Archie, Black — rang the bell. The mother of the child having the birthday looked at Archie and said there were no more chairs. Gill, confused, offered to sit on the floor or get more chairs. The woman repeated there were no more chairs. Finally, Gill realized Archie was not welcome because he was Black. The boys left, both crying.

It’s a day that’s stayed with Gill for more than 60 years.

“We need to be a class of opportunity,” Gill told TODAY. “Archie was denied the opportunity to go to the birthday party because of a bias the woman had.”


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