New Intentions for MLK Assembly

Seniors Tuazjalo King [right] and Ariel Pio, and junior Susan Gatluk [left] perform their impassioned spoken word during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly on January 12th.

Different leadership, a different assembly, and a different message. This year, for the first time, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. assembly was run by Hale’s Black Student Union, BSU.

“In previous years, they definitely missed the mark because the people running the assembly were white,” senior Precious Anetipa said.

The annual MLK assembly has been run by the leadership or, more specifically, the Commissioner of Assemblies, in the past.

This January, it was completely student-led, spearheaded by BSU seniors Olivia Mirascian, Denait Fisshazion, Leah Gebregergish, and Precious Anetipa.Striving to make this assembly stand out from other years, they wanted to change the message that the MLK assembly presented.

“In previous years, they try and show the goodness that happened after MLK and how he fought for our rights, and it didn’t focus on the struggles that African-Americans face,” Fisshazion said.

The assembly was unprecedented because its goal was to break the comfort zones of students.

“Our organization was based off how we could make the MLK assembly more powerful,” Anetipa said.

BSU shared a wide range of students’ stories that pushed their peers in the crowd towards uncomfortable questions about race. Students didn’t receive just another assembly that showcased King as a great man. The goal of the assembly organizers was to demonstrate that there is still a long way to go before racial injustice is solved.

Anetipa said the club was focused on one guiding question when planning the assembly: “How could we make students not just talk about the MLK assembly the day after,” Anetipa said, “but carry that awareness we [get from] the MLK assembly through the rest of the school year?”

To kick off the assembly, BSU decided to replace the American national anthem with the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

“We had someone sing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ because I felt like if we did the national anthem the whole BSU would all kneel or link arms,” Ariel Pio, a speaker in the assembly, said. “We wanted to do a song that put our beauty and culture out there for all of BSU and other minorities.”

Sophomore Aaron Allen opened the assembly with a short, impassioned speech, and from the moment he spoke, the crowd was transfixed.

“I was trying to break the barrier of black and white and make this an issue of all races,” Allen said.

Allen’s speech foreshadowed one of the assembly’s messages — that while America has made strides since King’s marching issues are still prevalent.

Next, multiple students took turns at the microphone telling the stories of black victims of unwarranted-excessive police brutality and the white privilege that protected the cops from prosecution.

Seniors Tuazjalo King and Ariel Pio, and junior Susan Gatluk followed this with a spoken word piece in which they took rhythmic turns sharing their views on racism, from the subtle injustices a person of a minority might see everyday, to the cruelties of systemic racism.

“The whole point of the spoken word piece was to show everybody how minorities see stereotypes in the world and how we live in the world,” Pio said.

Many students snapped along to their performance in agreement, and it received a standing ovation.

Other speeches from BSU members followed, including one by Tuazjelo King, and a poem by Ruth Arande.

The assembly included multiple performances. A choreographed dance by the African Girls Club was capped off by the entire BSU walking through rows of seats, fists raised in unison with the dancers. Hale Drumline then performed, led by music teacher Evan Norberg. The organizers of the event, Anetipa and Fisshazion, sang their own remix to Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” which received another standing ovation.

The assembly then became more interactive.

In an activity led by Pio, students were asked to stand or sit if they felt a challenging statement was true to them. These statements included if students felt Hale was diverse, if they felt comfortable in their own skin, and if they had ever been discriminated against because of their gender or background.

“I wanted people to see how diverse the school actually is and how much we can all get out of it,” Pio said. “I felt like visually we don’t see that as a school very much and I wanted everybody to see that.”

The MLK assembly upheld and surpassed a high standard of formal assemblies at Hale, according to activities coordinator and history teacher Tony Renouard.

“People walked out of there talking about it and being inspired by it. Some people were uncomfortable and that’s okay.  That’s where we get change,” Renouard said.

BSU had a new vision for the MLK assembly and what conversations it could spark. Renouard, who has seen years of assemblies, believed this year they stuck to their goal and executed it perfectly.

“I hope today has made you feel uncomfortable. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” sophomore Hemani Kalia said in the closing speech of the assembly. “This is your own peers trying to enrich your minds with our true emotions. We want you to feel how we feel.”

Photo by: Luke Notkin

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