Masters set to honor MLK with day of celebration and reflection

Director+of+Equity+of+Inclusion+Karen+Brown+addresses+the+Upper+School+at+the+beginning+of+the+2019+MLK+assembly.+Brown+has+led+the+planning+efforts+for+this+year%27s+celebration.+

Vincent Alban

Director of Equity of Inclusion Karen Brown addresses the Upper School at the beginning of the 2019 MLK assembly. Brown has led the planning efforts for this year’s celebration.

Logan Schiciano, Editor-in-Chief

The Masters community will take the greater part of the school day to commemorate the work of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. through a series of presentations, speeches, and activities on Thursday, Jan. 16. The day, which will begin with an all-school assembly in the Fonseca Center gymnasium, is an opportunity for members of the Masters community to share personal stories and shed light on various topics of social justice which include, but are not limited to, race, gender, sexual orientation and culture.

The MLK celebration at Masters is a long-standing tradition; this year, Director of Equity and Inclusion Karen Brown has headed the operation, with the help of Upper School Diversity Coordinator and Dean of the Class of 2021 Eric Shear, student Diversity Ambassadors and club leaders. According to Tower archives, former English Department Chair Robert Cornigans, played a crucial role in planning the event for many years and had been a participant since 2006. Following Cornigans resignation just days before last year’s celebration, Brown–who formerly played a lesser role in the organizing–stepped up and helped facilitate the final rehearsals and the day.

Brown herself has connections to the civil rights movement–her parents were both activists and her family was the first family of color to purchase a home in the neighborhood of Miller Beach, Indiana.  Though she noted that some in the Masters community might not have a direct connection to the movement which Dr. King was so heavily involved, she explained that there is still a lot students and faculty can take away from the celebration. 

“Martin Luther King benefited everyone. We wouldn’t be a diverse school, without people like King. He represents unity.” She continued, “I hope people can understand that this is a day for everybody.”

Senior Jaelyn Felton, who is co-president of ONYX (a student-run club which engages in discussions relating to black culture and black issues at Masters and beyond), expressed a similar sentiment. 

“It’s important to treat this day with kindness and respect. If you don’t know much, listen. Be open to what others have to say,” Felton said. 

The day will hold a similar format to last year’s celebration. The all-school assembly will take place in the morning and shortly after, students will go to lunch where they will be encouraged to “mix-it-up” and sit with other students and faculty who they might not know. Although this aspect of the day yielded a mixed reaction after its inaugural running a year ago, Brown explained why it remains an important aspect of the experience. 

“A lot of people don’t realize that one of the most segregated parts of a school is the dining hall. It is a place where people can feel very isolated,” she said. 

In the afternoon, students will attend two breakout sessions where they will have the chance to further explore the subject matter presented in the morning assembly, which range from environmental justice, to women’s rights, to white privilege. 

Kishan Mangru, who is a junior, previewed the session that is being led by the school’s diversity ambassadors: “All Words do not Belong to Everyone.”

“It is going to show the effects of using derogatory words or phrases that may be condescending. Personal stories will also demonstrate how they can impact an individual or group as a whole,” he said. 

The theme for this year’s MLK Day celebration is “Speaking, Hearing, and Opening Up Together: ‘How and why do we stand up in the face of resistance and adversity?’”