Like most students in the United States, Thacher students will not be in classes on Monday, January 19. However, instead of sleeping in until noon on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students will be watching performances by their peers, viewing a documentary, and attending workshops. The events begin tonight, Sunday, January 18 with a keynote presentation by former Black Panther Mr. Jamal Joseph and a follow up conversation with Joseph and legal expert Mr. Whitney Traylor (the father of Kami Sims-Traylor ‘17).
Mr. Donald Okpalugo, who organized this multiple day event, sees Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a significant day that ought to be recognized, in part due to his experience at his former boarding school.
“The administration at the boarding school I attended didn’t really take MLK Day all that seriously which really upset me as a kid. At the same time the very same administration refused to speak out about misogynistic, racist secret societies that existed among the student body. All of this stuff made a huge impression on me.”
Mr. Okpalugo does not want Thacher students to feel that MLK Day has been pushed aside and forgotten.
“I don’t want any students graduating from Thacher with the same bitter taste in their mouth that I had. So when Mr. Jacobsen asked me if I wanted to be in charge of planning the 2015 Martin Luther King Symposium for the Thacher School I jumped at the opportunity.”
To help the day become a school-wide event, Mr. Okpalugo called upon faculty members and students to lead workshops.
“It has been so inspiring and refreshing to receive so much input and buy in from teachers and students.”
The diversity of workshops offered is broad; students have the option to peek into the past or confront modern issues. Mr. Okpalugo plans to visit as many workshops as possible, however he does have a few essential stops.
“I will definitely be checking out Jamal Joseph’s workshop on Artivism: The New Civil Rights Movement, Whitney Traylor’s on Police Brutality and the Use of Force in a Technological Age, Zane Carney’s workshop, Mr. Sohn’s, and Mr. Robinson’s.”
Some workshops are dedicated to recognizing the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activist while other workshops will encourage students to open up and express their opinions about the controversial and pressing social issues currently facing America, even Thacher.
Elizabeth Zhang ‘16 is excited that this Monday will be dedicated to discussing important issues.
“I feel like MLK Day is a perfect opportunity for all students to discuss the deep underlying social issues that still exist at this school.”
Students will either first attend workshops and then view the film Black Power Mixtape, a 2011 documentary film directed by Göran Olsson about the evolution of the Black Power Movement in American society from 1967 to 1975, or vice versa.
Mr. Okpalugo has seen the film multiple times but still appreciates the powerful recounting of the Black Power Movement in the film.
“I must have seen it upwards of ten times, but it is still a very powerful experience every time I see it. The documentary is unique because it was produced by Swedish journalists so you have external (non-biased) observers producing this series of mini vignettes with very little outside narration/manipulation. It allows the audience to come to their own conclusions about what they’re watching.”
Recent news has touched off a fresh look at the ongoing civil rights movement in America. The grand jury’s verdict on the shooting of Michael Brown shocked the nation, while everyday, new issues concerning racial, gender, sexual, and socioeconomic equality appear across national headlines.
A lot of these workshops directly address issues that hope to alter the future of America. Through these workshops, students have the opportunity to delve into these issues. Mr. Okpalugo hopes that students and faculty will walk away with three revelations.
“I want students and faculty to end this day with the understanding that engaging in honest dialogue about issues of humanity can sometimes be uncomfortable and confusing, but it is for the greater good of the community, a better understanding of the word ‘community’, and a realization that MLK’s vision was bigger than civil rights—he wanted universal human rights.”