MLK Day at Exeter

"Walls, borders and boundaries" is the theme of Exeter's events honoring the slain civil rights leader.

Nicole Pellaton
January 12, 2018
MLK Day 2018

Students discuss ways to have meaningful conversations about race in a workshop led by Lee Bebout during Exeter’s MLK Day 2018. 

Highly original programming honored the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today, commemorating the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

With classes canceled, students chose from events that included a semi-staged play reading about prison life, workshops on race and language, a film about Zuni lands and customs, discussions of King and Malcolm X, a comedy performance focused on race, and a poetry workshop.

“MLK Day is the one day we sit down and talk about race,” says Janalie Cobb ‘20, a member of the MLK Day Committee. “We wanted this year’s MLK Day to not be a one-and-done sort of thing. We wanted to make it a continual conversation because nothing changes if you only do it once. We want people to come to their classes, come to d-hall, go to their locker rooms, their sports teams and really think about what they heard today, what they absorbed, and have those conversations on a daily basis.”

Stunning performances launched the programming, starting with last night’s “UnSilenced,” a collection of readings and songs by students, faculty and staff.

“Not only was the energy very good, but it was also eye-opening for a lot of people,” says Jacob Hunter ‘19, a member of the MLK Committee and one of the emcees for “Unsilenced.” “We wanted to prioritize people being able to tell their own stories. Many started to grasp the idea of what the experiences are for some people.”

This morning, Big Red Blues, a student band, played tunes as students filled Assembly Hall. Hunter sang a powerful version of “Strange Fruit,” to piano accompaniment. A highly original and stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace,” performed by Concert Choir accompanied by solo oboe, was met with a standing ovation.

Activist Lourdes Ashley Hunter, co-founder of the Trans Women of Color Collective in Washington, D.C., delivered a keynote, “Living My Best Life: From Surviving to Thriving,” that focused on her experiences and the work of her organization to help people disproportionately impacted by violence.

After the keynote, students, faculty and staff attended small breakout sessions and interactive workshops across campus.

Here are a few programming highlights:

  • Stir Friday Night, comedy sketches — this Chicago-based Asian-American theater company specializing in improv presented popular sketches from several revues, using comedy to examine minority stereotypes and challenge misperceptions.
  • Lee Bebout, “Embracing Discomfort: Talking About Race in the 21st Century” — Bebout, author of the book Whiteness on the Border: Mapping the US Racial Imagination in Brown and White, helped students explore the common ways individuals avoid having meaningful conversations about race and inequality, and provided strategies for more effective communication about race.
  • Meg Day, “Poetry and Activism: the Manifesto” — “You don’t need a mouth like a megaphone to be a mover and shaker!” says Day, who led a workshop on the power of poetry — from Homer to Tupac Shakur — to incite change. Day is the author of Last Psalm at Sea Level.
  • Kristen Lee Skedgell ’74, “Bearding the Lion in his Den” — the author and members of the Exeter community performed a semi-staged reading her play about breaking through the walls of prison and fighting for one’s dignity and freedom. Skedgell is a psychiatric social worker in a maximum security prison.
  • Exonian Encounters, “Walk the Line” — a workshop designed to open dialogue about the challenges of marginalized or “othered” groups within Exeter.
  • Zaheer Ali, “Martin Luther King, Jr. & Malcolm X: The Dream and the Nightmare” — an examination of Malcolm X’s critique of liberal integration, with which King and the civil rights movement are often identified. Ali is oral historian at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
  • Audrey Morrissey, “My Life My Choice” — a discussion of marginalized youth who are victims of the sex industry, and Morrissey’s work with Boston-based My Life My Choice, an organization fighting to prevent commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Daniel Byers & Octavius Seowtewa, “Then, Now, and Forever: Zuni in the Grand Canyon”— a film showing of a scared pilgrimage down the Grand Canyon, followed by conversation with Seowtewa, head medicine man of the Zuni tribe, and Byers, the film’s director.
  • Russell Weatherspoon, “The “Other” Speech of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” — a discussion of this speech, given one year before King’s assassination, led by Religion Instructor Weatherspoon.
  • Nancy Brown, "50 Years of the War on Poverty and the Struggling Times in Appalachia" — a discussion of Brown’s work with coal miners and their families in eastern Kentucky during the civil rights era and the War on Poverty in the late 60's. Brown is a former instructor in PEA’s department of Health and Human Development.
  • Peter Vorkink, “Biography of a Man; Biography of an Era” — a conversation with Religion Instructor Vorkink about his work with King during the summer of 1964 in St. Augustine Florida.
  • Liz Hurley, “Ferguson Voices: Disrupting the Frame” — using curriculum created by Facing History & Ourselves and the News Literacy Project, students explore the impact of identity with a gallery walk, guided by Health and Human Development Instructor Hurley, through this traveling exhibit on view at the Academy Library until Jan. 26.

MLK Day events continue tonight at Lamont Gallery with “Poetry, Politics & Conversation.” Join English Instructor Willie Perdomo, author of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon; Meg Day, author of Last Psalm at Sea Level; and Tracie Morris whose work is currently on view in “Possible Subject Positions,” on view at Lamont Gallery until Feb. 3.