Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to inspire

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Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to inspire
Every year the Olympia School District celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work for our country. This year, the Tacoma Arts Alive theater company toured our schools, including Reeves Middle School and Capital High School. Olympia High School also had a diverse presentation of student poetry, speakers and a song during a school assembly.

In Tacoma Arts Alive’s production “Get on the Bus,” students had the chance to watch two intersecting stories: that of Talia and her classmate James, and that of Vivian, a stranger the two kids meet. Talia has her heart set on going to a rally protesting the treatment of immigrants. James is supportive of his friend but is focused on studying thoroughly for an upcoming test. And Vivian? Well, she is ready for this rally. She used to be a Freedom Rider when she was their age.

Reeves Middle School students and staff gathered in their gym to watch this performance. Students laughed as the character Vivian hurried on stage, panting from exertion. The play transported the students back in time to when Vivian herself was a student, standing up for what she believed was right. She said that when she went to school, there was still segregation, and each school day was a struggle. “It takes real sacrifice sometimes to have your voice heard,” Vivian told the two students.

Martin Luther King, Jr. AssemblyWhen the play concluded, the actors scattered through the audience to collect answers to the questions posed by Production Coordinator Jill Heinecke. These questions promoted an overall conversation, shared with the whole school as each student listened to what their peers had to say. “What’s one moment in the play that caught your attention?” Heinecke asked. One student shared that he liked how the students really got into the song sung by the Freedom Riders during the play. “One person started snapping their fingers, then two, then three.” Students also kept rhythm during by stomping in sync to the song. Another student shared that he didn’t know that, at that time in history, African-American people would go to jail for using a white’s-only bathroom.

“I saw a lot of courage in the play. It’s hard not to speak about it,” a student shared. Heinecke left the students with this: “All of those characters were students finding a way to stand up. So I want you to think, as students, what are some issues that are important to you? And how can you make a difference?”

Capital High School students also took part in a similar discussion at the conclusion of the same performance at their school. One student saw the bus as a symbol of unity. “Civil rights is not just in our history, it is something we are continuing to stand up for,” Heinecke said. When students were asked ways they could make a difference in their school and community, a student shared, “We can go to protests and email our representatives.” Another student shared how it is important to have a voice for those with disabilities, such as those who are deaf or blind, and make sure they have what they need. “Raise your hand if you are 18 or older,” Heinecke said to the students. Hands shot up throughout the assembly. “What is something you can do?” she asked. “Vote!” several voices called from the audience.

Olympia High School’s MLK assembly was a wonderful mix of speakers, poetry, music and more. Malcolm Moore, an Olympia High School alumni, was the first to speak. He shared his own family’s story, how his grandparents stood up for themselves in the face of a white person’s comments, and the cost to them. Moore invited students to look around the room at their peers. “How many of these students do you really know? Do you know their story? Their family’s story? Everyone here has their own unique story. Most people do not openly share their stories. But everyone has one,” Moore said. He went on to encourage students to go out that same day and find someone outside of their social circle and learn more about them. “Your actions and words can leave a lasting impact on those around you. Empathy is truly the ultimate weapon against all the barriers we face in our society today.”

Not only did the assembly include inspiring guest speakers, OHS students also presented in a variety of ways. Students performed songs, including “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder in honor of Dr. King, and “Rise Up” by Andra Day. Students also shared poems, while another student shared what it was like to be a minority in school.

McLane Elementary Principal Anthony Brock, a former Olympia High student, also spoke during the assembly. Brock used to work as a graduation specialist at Olympia High School, as well as an assistant principal at Roosevelt Elementary School and a staff and diversity coordinator in the district’s Human Resources department. Brock encouraged students to serve their community. “You can do it,” he said. “It’s not just up to the adults. I really believe that it’s students who can be the change.” He told of his own years at Olympia High School, sharing a story of when Neo Nazis had come to the City of Olympia to recruit students. At the time, Brock asked himself, “What is it saying about our community if these hate groups wanted to come here? I realized there was work to be done; that I had to speak up; that I had something to say. That, to me, is high school.”