In-Person MLK Day of Commemoration Returns


The Latin community resumed its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Commemoration on January 19. Students and faculty members attended workshops and reflected on the community’s areas for improvement in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Eleannor Maajid announced this year’s theme for Latin’s MLK Day of Commemoration, “Nourishing Our Sense of Belonging: Embracing Our Identities as Individuals and as a Community,” in a community-wide email.

Students kicked off the day by listening to a presentation by Eboo Patel, a former member of President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships, and the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation.

Ms. Maajid emphasized the importance of an interfaith leader speaking at Latin for this year’s MLK Day of Commemoration. “We have had families, faculty, and staff who have come to me and said that we, as a community, do not talk enough about religion,” Ms. Maajid said.

The majority of feedback on Mr. Patel’s presentation was overwhelmingly positive. Sophomore Carmen Quinones said, “I was really inspired by the speaker, especially when he talked about how if you truly love what you do, you’ll like it more than putting other people down.”

Junior Elro Starr said, “The presentation was engaging and relevant because he talked about things that we can all see in the real world around us.”

Senior Kazi Stanton-Thomas appreciated Mr. Patel’s sincerity. “I particularly enjoyed that he was direct to the audience and did not avoid convoluted questions,” ze said. However, Kazi voiced concerns about Mr. Patel’s primary focus on major religions. “He didn’t give priority to the lesser known religions, which happens all the time in our society.”

Kazi practices Paganism, a religion other than Christianity or any of the other Abrahamic religions. Ze expressed that “as a Pagan, I only felt somewhat included.”

“Although his organization works with people with native spiritualities as well as Paganism, it would have been better to see it within his presentation,” Kazi said.

To reduce COVID exposure to outside speakers, a new change implemented this MLK Commemoration Day were the faculty-lead media workshops. Students had the opportunity to choose from four different mediums: art, audio, video, and writing.

In the writing workshop, students were given the prompt, “What does belonging mean to you?” Senior Lillian Ruiz said, “During those minutes of writing, I realized what belonging meant to me: being my true self.”

The most popular workshop among Upper School students this year was the art workshop. “Just being able to work through ideas of belonging creatively and collaboratively with others made it a fun experience,” Kazi said.

Students partaking in the audio workshop created a voice-recording responding to questions about belonging. Freshman Kate Weiskirch, who participated in the audio workshop, said, “I learned that it can be hard to get help, but there are some good people who will try to help you through struggles.”

Upper School science teacher Julie Plewa said, “I loved seeing the different ways of interacting with the idea of belonging, and not just reading or watching a movie about it.” She assisted in leading both the art and the Capoeira workshop. Capoeira is a martial-arts infused dance that was practiced by enslaved Africans in Brazil in the 16th century.

This year was Ms. Plewa’s first MLK Jr. Day of Commemoration at Latin. “This is my first time working at a school that designates a full day to fully dive into these important topics,” Ms. Plewa said. She added that she’s glad that Latin’s course model allows teachers and students to get the academic content in early, so that the community can spend a day to immerse themselves in different cultures and ideas.

Kazi ran a workshop on “Why Intersectionality Matters.” “It went as best as it could have possibly gone, and if anything we were overprepared,” ze said. Ze also had a great experience attending Upper School computer science teacher Ash Hansberry’s “Understanding Gender” workshop. In that workshop, students discussed how gender is related to personal identity, to social identity, and to one’s body. They also broke down gender stereotypes and expectations.

Carmen’s favorite activity on MLK Commemoration Day was taking part in the “Golden Globes” workshop. “I realized that a lot of the films in the media make Latinas out to be the same character archetype, and I think that talking through the good and bad ways to incorporate diversity in the media was important,” Carmen said.

Ms. Maajid shared that her highlight of the day was an interaction she had with Mr. Patel while she was walking him out of the building. “One of the things that he said was that he initially had a different view of Latin because of its reputation than what it really is to us,” Ms. Maajid said. “To see that we are listening, growing, and learning—I thought that was powerful.”