A Groundbreaking MLK Assembly

By Sarina D.’ 19 

On a dreary Tuesday afternoon in the middle of what had already felt like a long week, Crystal students and faculty members alike gathered together, first around campus with other members of their class, and then, as one unit in the comfort of the plush theater seats. Their goal? To honor Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, and to carry out his legacy through starting conversation about race and inclusion, speaking up about injustice and discrimination, and striving to foment equality and respect in our community at Crystal and in our community at large. 

While taking time to honor MLK was not a new tradition for the Crystal community, the structure of the assembly and its leadership were. In the past, Crystal has blocked out time for students and faculty members to embrace the life and legacy of MLK through speeches, lessons on his life, poetry, art, and performances of every kind. While these assemblies are always extremely powerful and informative, this year, community members from Diversity Committee, Keep it Real, and the Multicultural Leadership Team decided to try something different and focus on living out, rather than just appreciating, MLK’s legacy.

It took months of planning and the efforts of several students and faculty members across organizations working together, but by Tuesday, January 15th, the event was ready to be shared with the Crystal community. It started with a smaller group activity centered around a survey students filled out the week before. The survey asked students questions like, “what is the race of your dentist?” and “what is the race of the last person you texted?” prompting students to think about the racial makeup of the people in their everyday lives. At their respective grade locations, student facilitators set up dozens of boxes of colored beads, with each color representing a race, and then asked the same questions they had answered on the survey. The only difference? This time, the students’ answers were in the form of adding a colored bead to their bracelet. Red represented African American. Pink was Latinx. And if your role model was Asian American, you added a orange bead to your bracelet. After about fifteen questions, the students had colorful bracelets on their wrists, with each student’s bracelet looking different than the next. After students reflected on questions asked by facilitators such as “were you surprised by the visual representation of the questions you answered?” and “what role does race play in your life?”, they were directed to the theater, where they got to see an even larger scale visual representation of the diversity in their community in which facilitators asked similar questions about the race of people in our immediate lives and students stood up when the race that matched the race on the card they had been given was called.

After allowing students to reflect on the role of race in their life and the race of the people who they interact with the most and giving the school some much-needed definitions(African-American, colored person vs. person of color, and the n word), the assembly switched gears as students from Keep it Real shared what it is like to be a black student in the Crystal community. They voiced experiences ranging from feeling like their successes and failures dictate how their community viewed African Americans, to dealing with stereotypes about their intelligence, athletic ability, and socioeconomic status. And to drive home these experiences, in perhaps the most chilling moment of the assembly, Crystal teachers read anecdotes from black students at Crystal about moments in which they have been targets of stereotyping and racism. One student remembered a friend sharing that their mom had been surprised by how nice their house was. Another recounted students who they believed to be their friends joking about the n word. As each faculty member walked across the stage to the podium as the anecdote was projected, the community took a moment to reflect on the anecdote, and to be mindful about any reactions they had. Had they ever been a part of a moment like this? Had they seen this happening? How did the student feel in that moment? What would they have felt?  

The assembly culminated perfectly with remarks by star student, robotics captain, basketball player, and Diversity Committee Leader Natalie Brewster ‘19. We were lucky enough to interview her about the numerous hours she spent on planning this assembly, and what she hoped the community would get out of it. She detailed, “The assembly meant a lot of long hours thinking and planning about what would resonate with people and what would be the best way to get our message across, but overall I think we just wanted to share some insight surrounding the experiences of black students at Crystal and really get people to think about the role of race in modern society.” And that’s exactly what happened. As students chaotically filed out of the theater, they reflected silently as they headed off to their history reading or sports practice, or chatted about what they had just heard. In the words of Natalie herself, “the conversation- that’s what makes all the difference.”

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