MLK Day Begins Monthlong Celebration of Black History and the Arts

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Students and faculty paused to reflect on the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at School Meeting on Monday. The presentation by history teacher and Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion LaDarius Drew was the first in a series of programs planned over the next six weeks as part of the school’s Black History Month celebration.

The theme of this year’s programming will be “Black Joy,” Drew said, explaining that students will look at Blackness being joyful as expressed through the arts. Programs will touch on the Harlem Renaissance and the contributions and accomplishments of Black artists in the visual arts, literature and poetry, film and television, and music. Guest speakers and events will include:

  • February 1: An interview with Imo Imeh, a visual artist and scholar of African Diaspora art, and an associate professor of art and art history at Westfield State University
  • February 8: A discussion on the writing and expression of Claudia Rankine, an American poet, essayist, playwright, and co-editor of several anthologies, including “The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind”
  • February 18: An interview with Otoja Abit ’04, an actor, writer, producer, and director, whose film, “A New York Christmas Wedding,” premiered on Netflix in November.
  • February 25: A virtual “celebration of spiritual music with the spirit of joy,” featuring students in the FGS Music Program, directed by Ron Castonguay, Director of the Arts and Director of Music.

Over the past several years, students at The Frederick Gunn School have participated in the national Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service, and the school has hosted guest speakers and film discussions on campus. This year, rather than limiting programming to a single day, the goal was to offer continuous programming that is interactive, and looks at Black history through the lens of arts and culture. “We want to look at what it would be like for all of us to engage in a more meaningful experience, rather than just an event for a day,” Drew said.

The theme for each week will be presented at School Meeting on Monday, and supported by faculty-led student activities connecting the arts with the idea of peaceful protest in the context of Black History Month. “It’s about helping us to understand Black History Month and why we are doing it,” Drew said, noting that in their lifetime, students have seen the Black Lives Matter protests, the criminalization of Black people and non-white citizens, Black people being hurt, and being treated unjustly. They have talked about oppression and racism. “But we never talk about the good part. We never talk about Blackness outside of the pro-Panther party and Barack Obama. To start that conversation, we need to talk about some of the more accessible ways to understand Black people as creators in fine art, dance and music,” he said.

During School Meeting, Drew highlighted King’s accomplishments and the moments he led during the Civil Rights movement. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy is that of peaceful protest, of civil disobedience, of resistance, but at the same time, equality. At this moment we are in the physical manifestation of the dream that he once had and we will honor it over the course of the next six weeks.”

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