Recap: MLK Day


Megumi Kitamoto

Photos by Lizzie Pruneau

Having school on Martin Luther King Day was a first for the Iowa City Community School District, despite the controversy in the community. However, fifteen percent of ICCSD students did not attend school that day, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The students who attended participated in events related to Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as events related to diversity and public service were also included to encourage qualities that King had.

There was a lot of work put into making the events possible, according to social studies teacher and MLK Day Planning Committee Member Brady Shutt.

“The planning of the day happened through late September to early October, and it was difficult because we wanted to find meaningful experiences for a relatively low cost, and it is hard to work with such a big school,” he said.

Nonetheless, some students chose not to attend school that day. Hannah Abram ’14 did not attend because she was bogged down with homework after a weekend of show choir and West High Mini Dance Marathon. She also did not attend because she did not like the concept of teaching King’s ideas on only one day.

“We should be teaching the values [taught on MLK Day], such as tolerance, throughout the school year,” Abram said.

Michael Moonjely ’17 was not satisfied with having school, and did not come.

“The decision to have school was disappointing. Not only is [Martin Luther King Day] a federal holiday, but it is centered around one of the most important leaders in US history. Since the holiday is so prominent, students should be able to choose how they celebrate it,” Moonjely said.

For those who attended, the day began with classrooms tuning into Channel 5 to watch a video created by both faculty and staff members and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  “I Have a Dream” speech.
Academic dean and MLK Day Planning Committee Head Maria Martin believes that showing King’s speech was beneficial to students.

“Many students noticed on Monday [that] it is about equality for all people … not just on city buses and lunch counters, in employment and education as well,”  Martin said.

Six actors from the University of Iowa theatre department performed the play “In White America,” during second and third hour. The play highlighted African Americans struggling to gain equality from times of slavery to the Little Rock Nine movement. Most of the dialogue was from historical documents, and there were accompanying photos for each person that was featured.

Content from In White America

Three intensive weeks went into the preparation of the play, according to coordinator Loyce Arthur, an associate professor at the University of Iowa.

“[The actors] did their own research when needed and during rehearsal and they worked with the director to preserve as much of the essence of each character as possible in order to make the individuals come alive. They functioned as a true ensemble,” Arthur said.

After students filled out a form about the morning events, the service fair was held during fourth hour. 10 organizations participated to spread further awareness about their volunteer programs, including the Coralville and North Liberty libraries,1440 Interact Club and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Cameron Braverman ’15 participated behind the booth for University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

“[Volunteering] has influenced me to stay on task when I am not at school. I think that as long as we are [at the service fair], the time will be worth it,” Braverman said.

The service fair was followed by a speech by West graduate Zach Wahls ’09 during fifth and sixth period. Wahls covered many topics, including his viral video whilst speaking to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in 2011, his life with his two mothers and his experience at West.

“It was a big honor to be asked to speak at West on such an important day in commemoration of such an incredible man,” Wahls said.

Content from Zach Wahls

Wahls’ speech was also very inspiring to students.

“Zach Wahls was a great speaker, and tied in perfectly  what [Martin Luther King Jr.] believed, and that is that people should stand up for what they believe in. [Zach Wahls] is standing up for equality in gay marriage, and [Martin Luther King Jr.] fought for the same thing for African-Americans. He was a great speaker and gave me lots of hope for the future,” Yair Abramoff ’15 said.

The day then ended with the online poem “Lost Generation” by Jonathan Reed, and a spoken word poem “Strive” performed by SSIKE members Layla Siddig ’15 and Manasik Hassan ’14.

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“Every time we perform [“Strive”], it is always like the first time. I love this poem because it shows how we all struggle and it shows many relatable aspects of life,” Hassan said.

Anu Tiwari ’16 thought that MLK Day was a good experience.

“The variety was nice and I didn’t think anything was dull or boring.  My favorite part was probably just being in class and holding discussion with my teachers.  It was very interesting to hear their own personal accounts of The Civil Rights Movement itself and just the topic in general,” Tiwari said.

Katie Bozer ’17 agreed with Tiwari, and particularly enjoyed one portion of the day.

“[I liked In White America because] it was a different way of showing history in a more entertaining way. My favorite part was the portion of the speech by Sojourner Truth,” Bozer said.

Whether students thought the day was a good or bad experience, there will not be school on Martin Luther King Day for the 14-15 school year. Instead, there will be an emphasis on doing volunteer work on the day off, according to Shutt.