Webster Groves High School will honor Dr. Martin Luther King on Feb. 16-17, during first hour, with an annual assembly that has been a 30-year tradition.
However, this school-based production took a one-year hiatus last year.
This is because “The administration felt it was sending the wrong message,” senior assembly committee member Becca Riley said.
“People felt that it was becoming a talent show,” theater director and 10-year producer of the assembly Todd Schafer said.
“People felt the assembly wasn’t relating to everyone,” senior African-American Literature student Nathan Cole said.
“Racial tension in the community led to an administration that was scared about flirting with these issues at this assembly,” an anonymous source said.
The assembly is back in action this year. Assistant principal John E. Thomas said, “This year’s assembly will bring focus back to education.”
The complete list of teachers helping with this production include James LeMay, Dwight Kirksey, Shiree Yeggins, Schaefer and Lindsey Ross.
However, last year students did not miss out on their opportunity to express their feelings to an audience because they had All-Write Week in the Little Theater.
This production included slam poetry and skits which allowed students to convey their feelings on the recent racial issues at that time.
This was a smaller production that most English classes attended during February of last year. The performance was organized by Schaefer, and it will happen again this year.
However, this year’s grand production, commonly known as the “MLK assembly,” seems to be different this time. Students of the first hour African-American Literature class, taught by Lindsey Ross, will now be involved in the production, so the students have the opportunity to lead and organize the assembly.
Senior Cameron Thomas, who is a student of the class and coordinator for the assembly, said, “We (students of the class) will all collaborate on ideas, and then Mr. Schaefer will produce it.”
Ross said this program’s focus will change. This assembly is going to focus on “all racial issues pertaining to all people,” and she stated, “We will still talk about MLK,” even though the theme has changed this year.
John E. Thomas said this assembly will “show reverence to MLK” and “bring the elements of entertainment and education together.”
Cameron Thomas said, “It won’t be the same old stuff,” and “students should be exited; there is a new spark this year.”
Schaefer said this year’s assembly will be a focus more on “education and being a multicultural production.”
Cameron Thomas said, “We hope to educate WGHS, talk about MLK, and recognize history month.”
Thomas added this assembly will inform people about social justice.
This is how the assembly committee came to this year’s new theme “Take me to school: then and now.”
This will allow all the people involved in the committee and the audience to have a better understanding of education in the 1960s. This assembly will compare and contrast the issues of today and the 1960s, according to Riley.
John E. Thomas said the presentation will look at local history as it pertains to North Webster and Rock Hill as well.
This assembly’s purpose is to recognize and inform people about the figures of this time about whom lots of people don’t know, Schaefer said.
Schaefer said there will still be some music and poetry at this year’s assembly, and the step team will perform as well.
“They will be doing a routine, dancing to pictures,” Schaefer said.
Schafer said, “We can’t ignore how important these were” pertaining to the 1960s and the elements of theater and Jazz music.
John E. Thomas said, “We are leaning on Schaefer to make this meaningful to the students.”
Schaefer also recognized some people think this assembly was turning into a talent show and said, “There will be less people up on stage this year.”
Riley said their goal is to “educate people on these issues” and hopes to “relate to more people.” This has been a common goal among all the committee members who were interviewed.
Last year, although there was no assembly, the history club, sponsored by Julie Burchett, presented educational videos about the civil rights movement.
John E. Thomas said the videos last year “were not as well received as intended” and “will not be happening this year.”
John E. Thomas said this year, “Students will be more connected; this theme binds everything together.”
“This school has had many active students in the civil rights movement. We are trying to get rid of the stereotypes and show people what this is really about,” Riley stated.
Last year, Webster Groves students participated in a walkout, in response to events in Ferguson.