Art and Activism: Latin’s 8th Annual MLK Day of Commemoration


Ani Mehta-Shah

Funkadesi percussionists help bring Pavithra’s solo to life with background instrumental

Latin hosted its annual Day of Commemoration honoring civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 17.

To newcomers, the schedule may appear to be just another day in the rotation, but that could not be further from the truth. The MLK Day of Commemoration is packed with numerous activities, including a keynote speaker, various workshops, interpersonal reflections with advisory groups, and closing remarks.

Ms. Taylor speaks to students shortly before beginning Latin’s eighth annual day of commemoration for MLK (Hiba Ahmed)

Early in the day, students were given an overview of the schedule and what to expect by Kasey Taylor, Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Ms. Taylor’s speech was followed by a brief recess where freshmen and sophomores gathered in the Learning Commons for service work with Director of Community Engagement Tim Cronsiter while upperclassmen began their first workshop of the day.

Many younger students were eager to begin their electives after their morning activities. Sophomore Ava Nelson said, “I’m really excited about the workshops I signed up for. They’re both about posters and World War II, and those are two topics that interest me a lot.”

She added, “Latin does a good job with offering a variety of workshops, so even if you sign up for a workshop you’re not interested in, I think you could still end up learning a lot of new things.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Raul Sharma shares his beliefs as to why everyone must do their part and remain insistence in the face of injustice (Hiba Ahmed)

Workshops, however, were not the only place for students to immerse themselves in new ideas. Chosen by the DEI team to voice Latin’s commitment to a diverse educational experience, Dr. Rahul Sharma, a psychologist, consultant, and founder of the band Funkadesi, took the stage with his bandmates in tow. Together, Dr. Sharma and his peers swept the Latin auditorium with a range of sounds from various cultures and urged students to participate in maintaining the flow.

Upper School English teacher and DEI Curriculum Coordinator Brandon Woods said, “We wanted something a little more engaging. In the past, we’ve had a number of wonderful speakers, but 60 minutes is a long time to keep students engaged. So we went in wondering what would get students physically moving and participating in different modes of learning, and it just so happened that Funkadesi [did] both of those really well.”

Junior Mel Butler agreed. “I think arts and activism is more creative and a better outreach since it uses interactive sources like music, and music is what connects humanity,” she said.

Similarly, sophomore Tucker Thayer said, “I had a lot more fun than I thought I would. I was expecting lectures and [to be] sitting there, but it felt more entertaining and interactive.”

Various messages echoing the intent of Latin’s commemoration could be heard throughout Funkadesi’s performance, but it was performer Maggie Brown who delivered a message that stood out to many students.

“To come in and see that you all can leave your backpacks anywhere and not worry, it’s easy to take that for granted,” she said. “We all should feel that way, but we don’t. While you have this wonderful atmosphere, soak it up like a sponge. Don’t be a problem to your teachers and hinder the situation. Instead, help make it better for everybody. Then you’ll be walking in those shoes, like the ones we celebrate today.”

To conclude the performance, Dr. Sharma left students with one final thought: Kung Fu Panda. He began by asking the audience if they knew the secret ingredient to Funkadesi’s secret ingredient soup.

Throughout the auditorium, numerous booming voices could be heard shouting answers. Some students said the secret ingredient was love, another handful said it was patience. Meanwhile, other students—who are perhaps not so discreet fans of the Kung Fu Panda series—said there was no secret ingredient, and Dr. Sharma agreed.

He revealed he was alluding to Kung Fu Panda all along and thanked students for their dedication to finding the right answer. Then, Dr. Sharma said, “I think the secret sauce for Funkadesi is the fact I had a really vague idea of what I wanted the band to be, and then all of these folks came into my life and brought so much more than I could have ever imagined. I came with my authentic self, they came with their authentic selves, and we began this experiment of what happens when we try to make music together and be with each other in a way where nobody had to leave a part of them behind.”

Dr. Sharma added, “Start with your authentic self, and while we’re being nice, while we’re being humble, while we’re being accountable, we need to keep addressing things that are not right with our society.”

Shortly after Dr. Sharma’s closing remarks, students left to begin their second workshop of the day.

Sophomore Miles Stagman said, “I’m going to go in [my workshops] thinking about what these different aspects of our society are, and focus on understanding how to recognize those issues and then combat them.”

Mel, who attended the Poetry through Protest workshop, said, “Usually, I write about marginalized identities from the perspective of someone who has a minority identity, but today’s assembly allowed me to consider people who have other identities and what they can do to help social justice.”

But whether students went into their workshops with a takeaway from Dr. Sharma’s presentation or forgot about it after they were dismissed, many found themselves enjoying the workshops they signed up for.

Once the day concluded, Ava said, “I really appreciate the [workshops] I went to. I thought they were super fun and a great learning experience.” She added, “It was really interesting to hear the deeper meaning behind some pieces of art and explore some pieces of protest art that I’ve never seen.”

Echoing Ava’s satisfaction, Tucker said, “[The workshops were] better than I expected. I had a lot more interactive and entertaining workshops which I really enjoyed.”

Latin’s eighth annual Day of Commemoration left a clear message: Students appreciate various approaches to learning. The interactive performances provided by Funkadesi left memorable impressions on many and set a positive tone for the rest of the day.

Freshman Hadja Barry said, “I loved the inclusivity, the entertainment, and how much I learned. I’m really looking forward to the next Commemoration Day.”