Groton School honored Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on Monday, January 18 with probing discussions about race, fueled by thought-provoking films and presentations.
The day began with faculty and Second through Fourth Formers watching True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality, an Emmy Award–winning documentary directed by Peter Kunhardt ’71, who introduced the film.
In True Justice, attorney Bryan Stevenson methodically demonstrates how the courts and criminal justice system have institutionalized racist policies, and how the dehumanizing of Blacks empowered whites to degrade them.
“We could never have predicted how relevant the documentary would be,” said Mr. Kunhardt in his virtual introduction. “Bryan Stevenson traces how white supremacists may have lost the civil war, but they won the narrative war. The attack on the U.S. Capitol becomes even more clear when Bryan gives the historical context leading up to it.”
Through wrenching portraits of men unjustly sentenced to capital punishment, and the Equal Justice Initiative’s efforts to save the wrongly convicted, True Justice made clear that legal battles won do not equate with success changing the larger, entrenched racist narrative.
Fifth and Sixth Formers, who had already seen True Justice, watched LA92, another Emmy Award–winning documentary. LA92 starkly outlines the reality of police brutality in Los Angeles and the 1992 riots surrounding four police officers who were acquitted despite film showing them viciously beating a Black man.
Discussions followed the morning films, and during the afternoon students and faculty attended two of about two dozen workshops, mostly student-led, on topics such as allyship, cultural authenticity, gender roles, racism in medicine, and environmental racism. In a Poetry+Playwriting workshop, poet Cyrus Aaron challenged ideals of truth and the American dream and read his own poetry. In Exploring Liberation Through Art, led by art teacher Melissa de Jesus-Akuete, participants expressed their own thoughts on social justice artistically. In Show Me What Democracy Looks, student leaders analyzed recent protests, including the siege at the U.S. Capitol, and the impact of youth upon them.
With the inauguration looming, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration seemed more relevant than ever, for its examination of systemic racism, its historic perspective, and the sense that an ongoing racial reckoning may still provide hope for the future. As poet Cyrus Aaron told participants in his poetry workshop, "To get to post-race, we need to go through race honestly."