In a meaningful assembly Tuesday morning in the Hartness Performing Arts Center, Upper School students celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the visionary and activist who helped pioneer the Civil Rights Movement.
Upper School Religion instructor Melanie Gordon opened with a prayer, followed by an assembly that was centered around a well-timed and relevant film produced by senior Emma Akerhielm at the end of her sophomore year in Mr. Owen Riley’s documentary film class. “When he (Mr. Riley) told us we could make a ﬁlm about anything we wanted, I immediately thought of a former Sunday school teacher of mine named Roger Thompson who I interviewed in 8th grade about segregation. His stories interested me so much and I wanted to somehow make it into a real documentary,” said Emma. Emma decided to make a short ﬁlm on the Civil Rights Movement and how it played a role in Roger’s spiritual journey. Having grown up in Decatur, Alabama during the 1950s and 60s he had a first-hand account on racial segregation. Roger even participated in the Selma March where he met Martin Luther King Jr.. Roger Thompson and his wife were present in the theater for this special program.
Marissa Powe ’20 then outlined the program that was to follow, which consisted of quotes from prominent change agents read by students, the viewing of Emma’s film, and silent time to reflect.
Sherri Jiang ’19 read a quote from Elie Wiesel, Author, Humanitarina, Distinguished Professor, and survivor of Auschwitz Concentration Camp. CJ Farr ’20 cited The Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor and Theologian who was executed by the Nazis, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Anil Chandler ’19 quoted Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Professor, Humanitarian, first African American woman to serve in Congress and first African American woman to seek nomination for President of the United States, “ You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” Taylor Roberts ’19 concluded with one of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s many profound quotes on nonviolent action.
It’s evident when an audience of over 400 Upper School students remain completely silent and captivated by a film, that it is something really exceptional. Brynn Lynagh, '19 commented, “The entire morning and program was done so beautifully, we were engaged the whole time. It made me think, and I was touched. This is an important and relevant topic, even today.” Emma’s film was sincere, inspiring, emotional, and ineffable. Spare just fifteen minutes of your time to watch it, you will not regret it.
Students remained silent after the film and were given time to quietly reflect, while Kevin Connaughton, CCES Class of 2019 and brilliant pianist, played his own original arrangement of the gospel song, "We Shall Overcome"— a key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.
To view the documentary film, “Standing up for Civil Rights,” by Emma Akerhielm, CLICK HERE.