UD students host first installment of MLK-themed assemblies


Purvi Jonnalagadda and Clio Rao

As the first installment of a group of Martin Luther King Jr. themed assemblies, the Middle Division (MD) had a diversity assembly on Thursday in which eight Upper Division (UD) students spoke about different aspects of their identities, focusing on topics such as race, gender, and socioeconomic status. 

After many years of holding one MLK Assembly each year, Head of Middle Division Javaid Khan decided that it was time to expand the program, he said. “Dr. King stood for so many things and I wanted to capture his spirit of activism during the entire month of January, rather than on one day,” he said. 

A few years ago, Khan decided that every presentation in January would focus on advocacy as well as specific concepts the presenters are passionate about. “It introduces our community to a wider range of causes, from volunteerism to the environment to race relations to financial literacy,” Khan said. 

MD Mentors organized and piloted the diversity assembly, seeking out student speakers and coordinating the assembly, Jonas Jacobson (12) said.

The committee, led by Nshera Tutu (12), met over Zoom to determine the best possible way to make the virtual setting effective, Kate Bown (12) said. The committee contacted speakers over email to distribute guidelines and coordinate logistics. The committee, speakers, and Director of HM Parent Institute Wendy Reiter also held a dress rehearsal prior to the assembly. 

“This assembly is important for MD students because it can teach them about diversity and how to be inclusive to everyone in the community,” Ethan Furman (7) said. “These assemblies allow us to express what diversity means to us.” 

“MD Mentors’ leadership had been doing all of the heavy lifting,” Khan said. “They are just fantastic models of how leaders lead.” 

After attending the diversity assembly and hearing incredible stories as a sixth-grader, Louise Kim (10) said she was inspired to give back. Kim’s speech discussed her confrontation with homophobic beliefs she was taught through her religion when she was younger to support her non-binary friend. 

“I became more accepting and then supportive of the LGBTQ community and finally realized that in my new understanding of Catholicism, the teachings of Jesus do not only accept LGBTQ people,” she said. ”They support them and love them as he loves all other people.”

Naomi Yaeger (9), who previously attended a Jewish day school, spoke about leaving her Jewish bubble and gaining exposure to new perspectives after attending a biking trip with non-Jewish people. The trip gave Yaeger a new perspective on her Jewish identity, she said. 

Yaeger hoped the assembly would help MD students better understand the importance of diversity. “When people are only exposed to one race, one ethnicity, one nationality, one religion, one political party, or one set of ideas about any topic, they miss out,” she said. “They miss out on learning new ways of being that they could identify with more, they miss out on the amount of life they can enjoy, and they miss out on seeing their own identity from a new light.”

Like Kim, Bown remembered hearing stories from high-school students as an audience member in the MD. After hearing an inspiring assembly when she was in the MD, Bown wanted to contribute. 

Aidan McAndrew (12) shared his experiences about growing up with two mothers and feeling underrepresented as a kid when he saw a mother and father together. McAndrew said he was frustrated by the numerous questions about how his upbringing was different and was tired of endless questions. However, he realized that the school community is like a family structure that was very supportive.

Avani Khorana (10) discussed confronting the stereotype that all Asians are intelligent and excel at math, which Khorana said is the subject that challenges her most. These struggles made her feel as if she was losing a part of her identity, she said.As a solution, Khorana connected with her culture by participating in the annual Asia Nights. 

Elise Kang (9) spoke about her experience with Christianity. The 2020 election made her increasingly aware of the ways in which religion conflicts with her personal values, she said. “I’ve chosen to modify some Christian ideals for myself in order to support the world I believe in.”

Bown hopes students leave the assembly with a greater understanding that they have teachers and peers to talk to and that their experiences and feelings are valid. “I want them to feel comfort in the fact that among all of our differences, our community shares common goals, and that there is infinite value to discussing and celebrating diversity,” she said.

The assembly taught MD students how to step into other people’s shoes more easily, Ella Hecht (7) said. “I found the story on family structure to be most compelling, since it was the newest topic for me to hear,” Hecht said.

Similarly, the assembly helped Hannah Hunt gain new perspectives about identity. “You can’t assume things about people just by their race, and that you won’t truly know what people are going through unless you reach out,” she said. 

“It’s a terrific opportunity for MD students to see and hear from their mentors. Their stories often bring light to ways in which we can do better in our jobs of supporting them,” Khan said.