Guest speaker Jabari Asim addresses students
Each and every year the school comes together as a whole in the Schultz Gymnasium to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, this year students and staff not only attended the annual assembly on Jan. 30, but also attended an assembly in the auditorium discussing the use of the N-word in our pop culture and history.
The assembly on the history of the N-word was led by Jabari Asim, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director for Creative Writing at Emerson College and organized by Dean of Faculty Jenee Ramos and seniors Eva Earnest, Michael Zimmerman, Tiara Ranson and Yama Estime.
To begin each assembly (students were split by grade level into two identical assemblies before the larger gathering in the afternoon), Headmaster Anthony Meyer asked for everybody’s full attention and discussed the relevance of the assembly given the recent Snapchat videos in which students used the N-word. Following Headmaster Meyer, Estime explained the importance and challenges of fully understanding the N-word.
“The N-word is unique in the English language and sometimes it can be tough to understand its layered complexities. The word carries a legacy and weight that affects all of us at Brookline High School because it connects to other ideas that go beyond words,” Estime said.
Following Estime’s remarks, Asim began his speech by emphasizing that while he was here to give information, ultimately the action to be taken is done by students.
“I believe in giving the history, but then getting out of the way. You will be armed with the information to make an informed decision. That’s my goal,” Asim said.
Following that, Asim spoke about his upbringing in St. Louis, Missouri and the prohibition of using the N-word in his household. He then went on to apologize to any people who would feel offended about the words he would use in speech.
“Please know that I say them for purely instructive reasoning and not out of a desire to disrespect others,” Asim said.
Asim continued on to tell the history of the N-word throughout his speech, quoting Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and other prominent political figures.
“In Jefferson’s book he claimed that Black people did not feel the same emotional or physical pain that White people did. That they were not as intelligent, they were lazy and spoke poorly. And that Black people had more in common with monkeys than White people and that they were essentially inhumane,” Asim said.
Asim emphasized that Jefferson’s book led people to rely on the N-word to send home Jefferson’s message. He stressed the importance of knowing the history of the N-word.
He went on to ask rhetorical questions about the N-word.
“Why is the word so utterly irresistible to many who are not Black. What appetite does it satisfy?” Asim asked.
Asim then moved on to discuss the rise of the N-word usage in pop culture history, beginning as early as the 1800’s, and how this has effected the usage of the word today. On several occasions, Asim made it clear the N-word had a place when talking about history, in journalism, literature and other outlets in which history is shared. However, he made it clear that casual conversations are not the place to use the N-word.
The assembly concluded with time to ask questions.
Students share art and culture in honor of MLK
“I want you to leave here today and figure out what you need to.” These were the words of Superintendent Andrew Bott today at the second of two assemblies of the day the annual MLK assembly in the Schultz Gymnasium. Throughout the assembly, there was a common theme of speakers emphasizing the power young students have to make a change.
The assembly begun with a vivacious performance of the song Lift Every Voice and Sing by the combined choirs.
Next, senior and student moderator Anthony Saunders introduced the first speaker, senior Anthony Vieti. In his speech, Vieti emphasized the importance of young people and their ability to make change. He proposed his wishes for the future — not only for the school, but also the nation.
“We are going to have a better system. A better government. One that really cares about its people,” Vieti said.
Vieti concluded with the message that the longer we fight the more we can accomplish.
“For as long as we keep on fighting we can have the audacity to hope for a better tomorrow,” Vieti said.
Following Vieti was the high school step team, Ladies of Excellence, introduced by seniors Yama Estime and Amara Obiora. Estime and Obiora explained that step is a movement art influenced by African culture that involves making rhythms and dancing using one’s entire body.
According to Estime and Obiora, they brought the step team back this year and they feel that step is an important way to display African culture. The team performed a variety of steps, often chanting “come on girls” as the crowd cheered wildly. At the conclusion of the performance, the dancers did a surprise “fall” to the ground and the crowd clapped in awe of the dancing.
The third performer was senior Carolyn Parker-Farbain, who read a poem she wrote called “Black and Happy” about the importance of being African American in her life and trying to extend this pride to others.
“I nod at every Black person I see on the streets, me trying to extend a bit of Black joy to protect them on their travels. We still learn how to be Black and happy on purpose,” Parker said.
The third performer was junior Kaya Andrews, who also read a poem she wrote. The poem addressed a variety of issues, including the current political climate of the nation.
“So many of his supporters contradict the values of the nation we have built,” Andrews said, referring to the President.
She went on to affirm what America meant to her.
“We are America, not some racist ignorant wanna be,” Andrews said.
Next, Headmaster Anthony Meyer spoke. He highlighted his gratitude for both the student speakers during the assembly and for those who organized the earlier assembly. Meyer also spoke about the importance of checking ourselves. He admitted that we all make mistakes, but we must take responsibility and acknowledge them. He then went on to introduce Superintendent Andrew Bott.
“Coming to know him, he is somebody who is deeply rooted in understanding young people,” Meyer said of Bott.
Bott told the story of a group of 1st graders who were part of Project 351, a celebration of youth in the Commonwealth. The 1st graders performed at the Project 351 event in 2012 with a spoken word poem featuring portions of the renowned “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and ended it by speaking about what the speech meant to them. According to Bott, after a first grader told Deval Patrick she would like to meet the president as a response to the question, “what is your dream,” the former governor was touched by her confidence and set up a meeting with the first graders and Barack Obama.
The superintendent went on to explain the trip the 1st graders took, connecting it with how this spoken word initiated change for the children and inspired others, but also went onto show the importance of being in a community.
“I know that this is a story about first graders, but we still have work to do as a school, school system, as a town and most certainly as a nation to ensure that we are all present and fully a part of our community,” Bott said.
Bott ended with reflecting on the increasing hatred and that now more than ever, it is important for everyone to have a place and a home within the school.
“We need to ensure that everyone is fully not just present, but embraced. Not that everybody has a place, but everybody has a home. That you are a part of a large community,” Bott said.
Finally, he brought back the idea that students must advocate for the changes they care about and that we have the power and incite to bring upon that change.
After a year of much hatred in both our nation and our school, both assemblies served as a reminder that the high school can and should be a respectful place where all feel valued. More than anything else it is up to the students to create the change they want to see.