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MLK assembly brings school together to discuss racism

January 20, 2017

It is a rare occasion when the entire school gathers together in one room. Jan. 19 was one such day, as all students gathered in the Schluntz Gym to celebrate the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through speech and art. Many performances reflected the urgency for action given the current political climate, as well as the importance of community.

To begin the assembly, the combined choirs sang “I Need You To Survive” under the direction of Director of Choirs Dr. Michael Driscoll. The song’s upbeat melody combined with lyrics describing the importance of community and love gave the assembly a positive start.

Senior Ty Amarant West, who emceed the assembly, welcomed everyone to the assembly and returned to the podium between each act to introduce it.

Senior Ty Amarant-West speaks to the school in the Schluntz Gymnasium on Thursday during the MLK assembly. The assembly included musical performances, poetry, and powerful speeches from students.

Maya Morris/ Sagamore Staff

The first speaker was senior Ndaru Kartikaningsih, who performed an emotional original poem. Kartikaningsih said that while White people in the community have finished their day of courage, referring to the school’s once-a-year event, she and other people of color endure days of courage every day when they have the confidence to speak up and fight.

Senior Ndaru Kartikaningsih performs an original poem about the experiences of racial minorities at the high school. She was the first of several student speakers at the MLK assembly.

Maya Morris/ Sagamore Staff

The poem was followed by an abbreviated performance of the upcoming Spring Play, Every 28 Hours. In her introduction, director Summer Williams urged the audience to “pick up the torch” in the fight against racism in America. The four short scenes that followed showed a metaphor comparing reactions to a convenience store on fire to how many Americans react to violence against people of color, a classroom learning biased information about the slave trade and a phone call between White and Black friends and the story of racial violence from the unique perspective of “the bullets.” Through strong performance and carefully crafted language, the miniature plays were concise yet powerful.

Maya Morris/ Sagamore Staff

An abbreviated performance of the upcoming Spring Play, Every 28 Hours was performed during the MLK assembly. The play is titled after the controversial statistic that every 28 hours a Black man is killed by a police officer, security or vigilantes.

Every 28 Hours then gave the floor to the Music Collective. Director Carolyn Castellano introduced the song, “Our Generation” by John Legend and The Roots. The adept jazz musicians were accompanied by four vocal soloists: seniors Jasmine Santos and Sarah Dreyfus, junior Ashley Choi and freshman Tristan Conway, who sold the song’s message about taking action.

Seniors Jasmine Santos and Sarah Dreyfus, junior Ashley Choi and freshman Tristan Conway provide the vocals for the Music Collective’s performance of “Our Generation” by John Legend and The Roots.

Maya Morris/ Sagamore Staff

The next speaker was junior Juliette Estime, who also performed spoken word. With her use of allegorical language, Estime described the modern effects of slavery that she feels are still acting detrimentally on her community today.

Estime was followed by senior DaHana Smith-Rose, who wrote an essay about the pros and cons of student culture at the high school. The essay was formatted into several sections, addressed “dear teachers,” “dear administrators,” “dear white people” and “dear peers.” Smith-Rose addressed the all-talk, no-action mentality that she felt was prevalent at the high school, including improper addressment of the achievement gap and a failure to recognize events such as Black History Month. Smith-Rose spoke with passion about her personal experiences as a Black student and concluded her speech with the signature, “Sincerely, your not-so-standard Black girl.”

The next performance was from a group of dancers under the direction of teacher Mayra Hernandez. Hernandez introduced the piece, calling it a response to current events, and noted that “sometimes we have to experience pain to find our purpose.” The students danced first to the sound of spoken word and then to a slower, electronic melody. Their slow, staccato movements juxtaposed with slow, flexible twisting and the recurring movement of the dancers tearing at their clothes effectively conveyed to the audience a story of pain and frustration.

The final speaker was Headmaster Anthony Meyer, who addressed the school formally for the first time since his appointment as permanent headmaster. Meyer began by addressing the concerns brought up by Smith-Rose and thanked her and the other speakers for their courage. He then told the students he titled his speech “Every Interaction Must Matter: On Being Humans Together and Blending Patience with Impatience.” Meyer spoke largely about the role of community, especially when it comes to celebrating diversity. He emphasized multiple times that every student is a human being and deserves to be treated as such. Meyer hoped that students would take their anger against institutions and turn it into advocacy, while simultaneously being patient with the administration. Meyer concluded his remarks with the goal of seeking more unity and by quoting Dr. King, who said, “the time is always right to do right.”

The combined choirs concluded the assembly with the anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and Amarant West thanked everyone for coming.

In the last performance of the assembly, the choir sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, referred to as the “Black American National Anthem”.

Maya Morris/ Sagamore Staff

Only a few days after the federal holiday celebrating Dr. King’s legacy and the day before the presidential inauguration, the speakers and performers at the annual assembly made it clear that the legacy and teachings of Dr. King concerning acceptance of all and the urgency to fight for what’s right are now more important than ever.

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Videos of MLK assembly

Maya Morris/ Sagamore Staff
Maya Morris/Sagamore Staff
Maya Morris/Sagamore Staff
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Peep on the street: reactions to MLK assembly

Isabel Gonzalez/ Sagamore Staff

Junior Diaja Milton: "The poems were deep and I enjoyed it. I think we should definitely have these assemblies more often because a lot of voices need to be heard."

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