MLK celebration reimagined

Zoe Cote, Staff Writer

In 2016, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Tresa Wilson introduced Hockaday’s first Martin Luther King Day Celebration, launching the festivities with keynote speakers, student performers, and the upper school choir, even flying in choir specialist Dr. Raymond Wise.

This year, Wilson is working to reimagine the event virtually. Taking place in January 2021, the event will include a visiting scholar program in which students will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the keynote speaker and discuss events surrounding King’s legacy and racial injustices in the United States today.

“It’ll probably be a Zoom session, of course, where you can have an in-depth conversation about the keynote,” Wilson said.

In planning this year’s event, Wilson is focused on virtual community-building and maintaining an emotional-visual experience via Zoom.

Wilson said she asks herself, “How do I encapsulate the experience virtually? How can I deliver that again? How can I hug my community?’”

Wilson and the planning committee of division heads secured a keynote speaker for this year as early as last February. They have begun communicating with the student body about the event through the annual nomination survey where students can nominate themselves and other students as performers to be “talent- scouted” by Wilson.

Envisioned by former Eugene McDermott Headmistress Liza Lee, the event was created to incorporate all students and faculty into one celebration of the late Dr. Martin Luther King. Inspired by the Columbus School for Girls in Ohio and Wises’s work in their annual MLK assembly, Lee asked Wilson to coordinate and plan an event unique to Hockaday to include all grade levels.

Wilson said she got to work and planned the celebration with King’s legacy of community in mind, threading themes of sisterhood and non-violence throughout the event. She also strove to show a more personal side of Dr. King, intentionally including more images and stories from his life for the audience to relate to him more personally, rather than as a revered Civil Rights champion.

“I wanted to share a little more about him in unique ways,” Wilson said. “That’s why you see more pictures of him now living his life,not just the march. We’ve included pictures of him with his children, reading Gandhi, so you really start to see him as a man. My favorite photo is his graduation picture from high school and he’s in a cap and gown.”

Wilson enlisted the Hockaday choir and Wise to help her plan the event, aiming to elicit emotional, auditory, and visual reactions from the audience, “hitting all the senses,” as Wilson said.

“[Dr. Raymond Wise] taught them 2-3 songs in 30 minutes,” Wilson said. “By the end he was sweating and pulling off his coat and vest. Hearing the choir sing – I’ll never forget it – Terry Murray told me he cried.”

Senior Shayle Cruz has sung in the event since 8th grade and said she loves watching it come together each year. “Any performance that would’ve been a big group of people might have to be filmed and coordinated before the assembly since we’re not allowed to sing inside, so maybe Ms. Wilson is planning on doing more individual performances instead” Cruz said. “I honestly have no idea what she has planned, but I’m super excited to see how everything will work out!”

In the six years since its conceptualization, the schoolwide celebration has become a staple of student life every January, giving girls a full day to honor MLK and acknowledge his work toward achieving racial equality and peace during the Civil Rights Movement.

One of Wilson’s favorite praises from the assembly was a parent who told her how upset her third grade student was because her parent had scheduled a doctor’s appointment during the MLK assembly. In the words of the student, “Mom, this is the day I look forward to every year.”

In the event’s fourth year, Dr. Karen Warren Coleman, Eugene McDermott Head of School, suggested combining Hockaday’s Day X, a previously separate OneHockaday event before holiday break in December, and MLK Day into one day of service. Institute for Social Impact Director Laura Day stepped into the picture to begin incorporating service.

The intent for MLK Day of Service was to honor King through selfless acts of service, bettering the community in King’s legacy, Day said. “We hoped to have the school come together around things that matter to us as a school community,” Day said. “The effort was to bring students together to do social impact.”

Students from all divisions meet in their OneHockaday groups every year to collaborate on a service project such as painting panels for a Habitat House or folding origami for the NGO Paper for Water.

While considering a collaborative project for all ages in the first year, Day came up with the idea of painting the structural wallboards for the Hockaday Habitat House. Students painted more than 30 boards, adding a personal touch for the new homeowners.

The following year, the school participated in Paper for Water, a national non-profit founded by two sisters who fold and sell origami to fundraise for wells in Kenya. The school folded more than 2,000 pieces of origami which were sold by Paper for Water and to fund 2020 well construction.

“We have done a ton of good,” Day said. “We provided colorful walls for many homes and were able to help raise $5,000 to aid the building of a well in Kenya.”

Cruz said her favorite part of the MLK Day of Service is the community building that is reinforced each year.

“As cheesy as it is, the most memorable thing I’ve taken from the assemblies is how strong our community is,” Cruz said. “Seeing everyone from all of the divisions come together to make the event happen, and then doing community service after is super rewarding and really shows how close the community is.”