Community criticizes BETCo’s skits from MLK assembly



On Jan. 26 students across the school participated in the Intersession Day followed by the annual MLK assembly.

The MLK assembly is devoted to honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and took place via Zoom on Wednesday, Jan. 26 during Intersession Day. It featured insightful, emotional speeches from students and skits from the Brookline Educational Theater Company (BETCo) that prompted criticism from members of the community.

Junior Azavia Barsky-Elnour gave a speech during the MLK assembly where she detailed her experiences with racism in school.

“I’m sure you have all heard that go-lucky phrase administrators throw around when a swastika is found or some other racist event is brought to light: ‘We create the culture we want.’ Well isn’t it telling that racism, anti-Semitism, rape culture and misogyny still run rampant in our schools? Isn’t it painfully obvious that equity and justice have never been a priority?” Barsky-Elnour said.

Senior Mehdi Baliamoune, who also gave a speech, said the town’s progressive image is tainted by the daily racism he and many others experience.

“At BHS, silence prevails above all else. We like to think of ourselves as living in a bubble, unaffected by ignorance and hatred, but the concept of the bubble is completely wrong. I’ve been called a monkey, a terrorist, part of ISIS, Osama bin Laden’s family member. This overt racism is alive and well here at BHS,” Baliamoune said.

The Brookline Educational Theater Company (BETCo) performed pre-recorded sketches that took place between the speeches of Barsky-Elnour and Baliamoune.

The first skit was a conversation between a person of color and a white person discussing microaggressions. The second skit featured a gatekeeper deciding what traits people would have based on racial stereotypes.

Alvarez-Valdez said the BETCo skits did not align with the nature of an MLK celebration.

“I was appalled by the entire thing. I sat in my Social Justice class watching that, and I spent the entire time cringing and laughing- not because it was funny but because [the skit] was so uncomfortable to watch,” Alvarez-Valdez said.

Junior Lila Yoon wrote a template for an email that many students sent to the administration criticizing the skits. Yoon said the skits displayed blatant racism.

“It was really shocking in a bad way. It felt like a throwback to when people would call me names when I was a kid. I got the message they were trying to convey, but they did it in a way that hurt,” Yoon said.

Head of School Anthony Meyer said the skits were unacceptable and deeply impacted the overall message of the MLK assembly.

“The MLK assembly is one of my favorite events of the year, and I thought, for the most part, it was strong. I thought the BETCo skits were deeply inappropriate and not funny. It was frustrating to experience that in real time, with everybody else, not knowing ahead of time what was going to be seen by students and thus not being able to mitigate that impact,” Meyer said.

BETCo teacher Mark Vanderzee said the scene was written by students several years ago on Asking for Courage Day in order to serve a larger purpose in developing important conversations.

“That’s the main thing to address: some of the language was too far over the line and hurtful. I should have done more to provide more information and context to guide conversations,” Vanderzee said. “I think the important thing is maintaining an edge to push people out of their comfort zones to be able to have those courageous conversations afterwards, while maintaining respect and dignity for all people involved.”

BETCo member and senior Camryn Lezama said he had difficulty performing the problematic parts in the skit.

“It was really hard to perform in it. Obviously we knew that there were a lot of problematic things in the scene. As an actor it was really hard to portray it but we felt like there was a message that could be taken from it,” Lezama said.

Yoon said despite the intentions behind the skits, they were harmful to students and were unfit for an assembly meant to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

“{Comedic skits} don’t have a place on a day like MLK day: one of the only days we have to talk about racism.” Yoon said. “I think if I hadn’t written the email, {the school} might’ve tried to brush it under the rug or not even acknowledge it at all.”