Students communicate experiences with race at MLK assembly


The African, Latin and Hip Hop Dance class performs at the MLK Day assembly on 1/15/15.

Mairin Quillen and Kendall McGowan

by Mairin Quillen

This year’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly in the Schluntz Gymnasium began with a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by the school’s three choir groups combined. Headmaster Deborah Holman made the opening remarks, praising the school for being one of the few where an assembly to commemorate Dr. King is held every year, and highlighting the importance of the gathering this year amidst the controversy of recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island.

Next, junior Alex Chin performed a poem he wrote called “World of Legos,” about racial prejudice in our world and how members of society have the power to control it in the same way he controlled worlds of legos as a child.

The choreography class then performed a dance inspired by the work of renowned choreographer Alvin Ailey, featuring his trademark modern dance style infused with elements of traditional African dance, set to music accompanied by Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Following the dance, senior Gavin Hui spoke about the prevalence of racism, and how prejudice must be acknowledged.

“Ignoring race is no better than racism,” Hui said. “We cannot forget the scars, they haven’t healed.”

Then the Music Collective performed “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free,” a gospel and jazz piece by Billy Taylor.

In the next performance, senior Niambi Ayanna sang an a cappella version of the gospel hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” accompanied by dancers seniors Sherly Estime and Najmah Yusuf.

Afterwards, Associate Dean Melanee Alexander spoke about “the power of one” and the ability students have to leave behind a positive legacy by acknowledging racism within their own surroundings. Senior Taylor James and junior Diana Pierre read selected quotes of Dr. King throughout.

Next senior Kenny Szeto gave a speech comparing the fight against racism to the act of walking on a conveyor belt walkway that leads towards racism, saying that if one does nothing, one is still pulled in the same direction as those who are actively and visibly racist. Szeto communicated the message that it is necessary to walk against the movement of the conveyor belt to make a difference.

Sophomore Diyana Tekleghiorghis then performed a poem she wrote called “I Don’t Have the Vocabulary for Ferguson,” speaking about the incomprehensibility of discrimination.

“I don’t have the vocabulary for Ferguson, but I also don’t have the privilege of silence,” she said.

Next, the African, Latin and Hip Hop Dance class performed. The dancers initially moved with frenetic, nervous energy, which gradually builded until they reached a climax of firm determination.

After, junior Jaime Serrato Marks performed a poem he wrote called “Mexican’t,” in which he related the struggle of feeling different because of race to everyone’s struggle.

“We have all felt we are different,” he said. “We have all felt like we don’t belong. We are all Mexican.”

The assembly closed with senior Dawaun Hardy leading the audience in joining the combined choirs in “Ella’s Song.”

Photos by Kendall McGowan, Sara Hogenboom and Maya Morris. Video taken by Kendall McGowan and Sara Hogenboom and edited by Kendall McGowan

Mairin Quillen can be contacted at [email protected].