All three divisions of Dwight-Englewood held their annual Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) celebration assemblies on what would have been Dr. King’s 86th birthday, Jan. 15. Each division had their own agendas and directors: Office of Multicultural Affairs director Clinton L. Carbon and Lower School music teacher Mary Heveran for the Lower School’s assembly; Upper School English teacher Diane Christian and sixth grade history teacher Ben Fleisher for the Middle School’s; and Visual Arts faculty member Marisol Diaz, Director of Student Activities Maya Gunaseharan ‘08 and Upper School science faculty member Jane Park helmed the Upper School assembly.
In both the Middle (MS) and Upper School (US) assemblies, their respective programs began with a paragraph written by Mr. Fleisher, who penned the MS script:
“We celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a revolutionary figure in both American history and to the world at large. He is celebrated for his inspirational leadership of the Civil Rights movement in America during the 1960s. His rousing speeches inspired a generation of activists, scholars, and politicians of all races and creeds.”
The MS assembly focused on the 19th-century history theory called “The Great Man Theory,” which “states that many of our turning points and revolutionary changes are the products of Great People – both men and women – who seem to have the power to influence world events. This is someone with the extraordinary ability to wield power, charisma, wisdom, or action to influence events and change the world.”
The program then highlighted the “historical circumstances and events that paved the way for the Civil Rights movement and for Martin Luther King, Jr.” – including the Atlantic Triangular Trade of the 16th-19th centuries; Jim Crow; 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson; the Tuskegee Institute; the Great Migrations of 1910-1970; 1954’s Brown v. Board of Ed; the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks; the Little Rock Nine; and 1963’s March on Washington, which is best known for Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The assembly ended on a hopeful note, reminding students that “while we have made great strides towards a society as imagined in the constitution, where all people, men and women of all races and creeds, are created equal, there is a tendency to look back on the works of Martin Luther King, Jr. and people like him to think that the work is done. It is not. It is up to us to look at our current events – the ones that will become history – and choose how to respond to them. Perhaps some of you out there will be the ones who choose to act. As we leave the auditorium, let us think on Dr. King’s dream and how we can continue to help that dream come true.”
In the US assembly, students were reminded of how they had been forewarned that this year’s MLK assembly would take on a new approach: “…to include your voices in real time. There will be quotes, photos and videos for you to view, and then share, as you’d like, how the prompt makes you feel.”
Junior Nick Schuermann ‘16 provided a thought-provoking introduction to and brief overview of the program: “Today, we will pause to not only remember his call to action, but to give voice to our own sense of moral and civil outrage and obligation. For many of us in this room, we carry thoughts of the events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Paris and others. Our questions linger, and we can find no answers – only blame. We all have thoughts and feelings to express. Today is that day. This is the room. The time is now. We will take the next sixty minutes and ask the questions: What would Martin have done? What would Martin have said? Do his words and principles represent the outrage we feel? Do they bring us comfort? Are they relevant? If not Martin, who do we turn to? Maybe its time for each of us to make a stand. To stand for equality. To stand for empowerment. To stand for civil liberties. Is there something you…you sitting in this room…truly believe in? Take this opportunity to stand up. To stand and be counted, because it’s the right thing to do, no matter which side of the issue you find yourself.”
Sophomores Joel Lee ‘17 and Arlene Mendez ‘17 then led the US community through the series of questions, accompanied by the photos, video clips and quotes on slides for students to offer their sentiments. At the end of the hour, Joel thanked all for participating, leaving them with the notion “to continue the conversation. Based on the legacy of Dr. King, let’s strive to keep standing up for justice.”