Last fall, Claire Shackleford and a few other students and teachers from St. Joseph's Academy left school early and went Downtown to attend the Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace and Solidarity.
Led by Archbishop Robert Carlson, the service at Kiener Plaza was a time to pray for peace and healing in St. Louis following a not-guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who had been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith.
Inspired by what she witnessed that day, Claire returned to school the next day and organized her own sit-in. Claire and a group of students planted themselves near the main office for about an hour and sat in silence. They had handouts with Bible quotes focused on social justice and information on the Civil Rights movement, including the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
"The goal of our sit-in was to sit in solidarity with those who had fallen victim to racial injustice," she said. "We spread a lot of knowledge, not only about the issues in our community, but also that St. Joe students care."
It's clear that Claire continues to live the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who sought equality and justice for all and to make the country a place where freedom and peace would flourish. Claire is among 30 students who were to have been honored with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Model of Justice Award Jan. 14 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Rev. King's death.
A senior at St. Joseph's, Claire is involved as president of the Diversity Club, Youth and Government (she was secretary of state at a state convention in Jefferson City, Mo.), president of Active Citizenship Club, Pax Christi Club and in several honors societies. She also is a member of SPARC (Students Participating Actively in Real Change), a group of teens from area high schools engaged issues related to social justice and community service.
Through the Diversity Club, Claire has spoken to students on cultural appropriation, Islamophobia and African American leaders during Black History Month.
Reflecting on Rev. King's legacy, Claire's personal mission is to bring awareness of the issues to the community, her fellow students and her family. "A lot of times people don't care, because they don't necessarily know what's going on. And to do it in a non-violent and peaceful way."
Claire admires Rev. King's ability to stay calm in the face of overwhelming adversity during his time. "He got a lot of criticism, a lot of hate, a lot of threats, yet he was able to still believe in what he felt and stand up for those who didn't have a voice," she said.
2017 MLK Model of Justice Awardees
Caitlyn Ulery, All Saints (St. Peters)
Sam Sachs, Assumption (O'Fallon)
Sean Lane, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Ferguson)
Mia Strahlendorf, Sacred Heart (Valley Park)
Nicholas Koester, St. Alban Roe (Wildwood)
Tiara Searcy, St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist (St. Louis)
Anna Jones, St. Gerard Majella (Kirkwood)
Joseph Kosta, Bishop DuBourg
Jeremiah Darby, Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School
Jack Westendorf, Chaminade College Preparatory School
Owen Lipinski, Christian Brothers College High School
Christian Brothers College High School
Madison Watson, Cor Jesu Academy
Kendall Fields, DeSmet Jesuit High School
Ashley Norviel, Duchesne High School
Geneace Adams, Incarnate Word Academy
Faith Zarrick, Notre Dame High School
Morgan Lanton, Rosati-Kain High School
Kaitlyn Bross, St. Dominic High School
Cassandra Caragine, St. Francis Borgia Regional High School
John Allen, St. John Vianney High School
Claire Shackleford, St. Joseph's Academy
Sohan Kancherla, St. Louis Priory School
Delton Utsey, St. Louis University High School
Peyton Follis, St. Mary's High School
DaJuan Young, Trinity Catholic High School
Allison Kohne, Ursuline Academy
Taylor Siebert, Valle Catholic High School
Sophia Evans, Villa Duchesne
Catherine Miller, Visitation Academy