MLK assembly focuses on challenging institutional racism
January 21, 2016
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This quote was brought up by several speakers at the school’s annual MLK assembly today. By channeling the former leader of the civil rights movement, they challenged the audience on how they would deal with racial issues, both in Brookline and around the country.
Today, Thursday Jan. 21, the high school held an assembly during X-block to celebrate Martin Luther King. The assembly was kicked off with a passionate performance of the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by the Combined Choir.
Next, moderators junior Ty Amarant-West and senior Alex Ervin introduced the opening speaker, Headmaster Deborah Holman. The focus of Holman’s speech was on then recent events at the high school, scolding students for racial slurs made to other students, religious jokes, bullying, exclusion and problems within athletics. This included a passing nod to the group chat of the boys varsity hockey team, which resulted in disciplinary action against several players, and female athletes at the high school being “objectified, rather than cheered on.” Holman repeatedly used the phrase “I wonder…” to cite her mixed feelings of disappointment and ambiguity over the intentions of students.
Following Holman was a speech by senior Kerimal Suriel, who began by saying she was going to be completely honest with the school. She then acknowledged the lack of teachers of color at the high school, the recent discovery of a mural with a negative depiction of a female Black basketball player in the girl’s locker room, an altercation that occurred on Back to School Night between a police officer, his family and four students of color, and recent tensions within the Brookline Police Department. Suriel also discussed privilege and said that those who have it have a “moral obligation to use privilege to even out the playing field.”
The third speaker of the day was senior Hal Treidman, who introduced himself by noting that some might find it odd to have a White person speak at an MLK assembly. Then he explained how his own racism has affected him. Triedman started line after line with “I am racist,” identifying how he benefits from institutionalized racism and admitting that being quiet and following the status quo, or “passively going with the current,” makes him racist. He said that if he is not outraged that “young Black men are 21 times as likely to be shot as young White men,” or that the town is considering cutting METCO funding, than he is not doing his part to combat racism.
After Treidman, senior Olivia Mosquera took to the podium and sang a solo rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
Then sophomore Juliette Estime recited the poem “Poems of Race.” The poem centered on the “sacrifice our Black brothers and sisters have made,” and the power within the Black race.
The next speaker, senior Donnaya Brown, poked fun at both Whites and Blacks alike.
“Just because you can dribble a basketball doesn’t mean you can skip class,” Brown said. “Just because you ‘say’ you are a White ally does not mean you can say all of the N-words in Kanye’s new album.”
Brown asked the audience to help usher in an end to the “sugarcoating of the topic of race and inequality,” saying that the age of political correctness has ended, and “if you see something, say something.”
West and Ervin then introduced Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson ’93. Jackson told the story of one of his most transformative experiences with racism, on his first day at the University of New Hampshire. Jackson said that when he walked into the fieldhouse of UNH for his first assembly, he realized his was the only Black face out of thousands. In fact, out of about 12,000 students at UNH in his time, just 54 were Black. Today in 2016, after contributions by Jackson and the Black Student Union he helped created there, UNH now has 550 Black students out of about 13,000.
Jackson urged the audience to appreciate what they have in Brookline and said that other town “typically do not look like and feel like what you have here in Brookline.” Jackson then challenged students at the high school to stand up for “the police officers afraid to go to work” and “the firefighters that cannot pay their bills.” As he invited the entire student and faculty body rise, he explained that these issues were in fact critical to students, noting that young people have historically been the voice of change. Jackson asked the audience to repeat after him in a rousing speech on how students at the high school can be a part of positive change and to look at their hands, which he symbolized as the vehicle for change. In the closing moments of the assembly, he told the entire school population to pat themselves on the back for taking part in the Brookline community. During his speech, Jackson noted that racism is not the only form of change that students can take part in; he also mentioned gender bias as a problem faced today.
The Combined Choir returned to conclude the assembly. They sang “Precious Lord,” one of Martin Luther King’s favorite songs, according to the moderators.