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Celebrating the Beloved Community: MLK Social Justice Assembly

January 16, 2024—Class VI emcee Zora Chirunga ’26 kicked off the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration during the all-school social justice assembly. The event, which honors Dr. King’s legacy, has taken many forms over the years and usually features artistic expression, student voices, and a special guest.

Four student leaders Caroline Bird ‘29, Majdouline Tanefis ’29, Eileen Lee ’28, and Rylee Shuler-Simons ’28 from the Lower School Social Justice Club offered reflections on how the club has impacted their lives. As Rylee observed, “I decided to be part of the club because I wanted to solve issues in my community as well as learn about other problems that affect the world around me. This club taught me that I can make an impact in my community.” They closed by giving a joint reading of the Elizabeth Acevedo poem “Say the Name,” a piece that unites activists across decades from Rosa Parks to Colin Kaepernick.

The  Winsor Dance Team performed an interdisciplinary work with choreography by Dance Faculty Ann-Marie Ciaraldi. Wearing flowy red dresses and blending modern and contemporary techniques, the dancers embodied themes of community as well as the racial dissonance that still exists today. The dance was accompanied by film and spoken word, which included the last section of Dr. King’s infamous speech, “I Have a Dream.” The piece concluded with a powerful quote by the Reverend: “I have decided to stick with love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Special guest Dariana D. Guerrero, a local spoken-word poet, took the stage and captivated the crowd with her poem “This Is the Year.” A dynamic performer, she used her whole body to tell the story and encouraged students to give spoken word a try. 

Her presentation, entitled “Cultivando Comunidad” (Cultivating Community), explored the power of the beloved community. Originally from Lawrence, MA, Ms. Guerrero spent 2023 as an artist in residence in her hometown. A writer, book author, poet, and performer, she developed her year-long project from a place of curiosity and asked, “what is it that I have not done before?” 

Taking on the medium of watercolors, she found inspiration in the City of Lawrence flag, wayfinding signs, news articles, and more, ‘remixing’ different combinations into posters and even a deck of cards. “I thought, how can I remix them, add my own little savor, my own little salsa,” she explained. For example, the news headline “City of the Damned” became a poster that read “City of the Damn Proud.” As she put it, “Part of my work in the beloved community was to counteract the narratives about Lawrence.”

To further explain the concept of remixing, she sharing a second spoken-word poem. Her take on the Emily Dickinson poem “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died” resulted in “I Heard a Platano Ripen When I Was Born.” She ultimately encouraged students to see “criticism as a form of love” and urged students to honor Dr. King by living each day with “the freedom to be who you are and the freedom to believe in what you believe in.”

Singing “Harmony” by Pinkzebra—a music producer and composer of uplifting and inspiring songs—Illumina closed out assembly with the chorus “we need some harmony…that’s how we’re meant to be.”

Emcee Chirunga had the last word, talking about the organization she runs with her twin brother Denmark, Giving Soles Africa (GSA). “Service is a way for me to give back to my beloved community,” she said. Giving Soles Africa is committed to providing underprivileged children with reliable footwear that supports and protects their feet as they walk to school each day. Winsor will be participating in the project and students are encouraged to bring in new or gently worn shoes through the end of January. 

Special guest Guerrero spent the rest of the day visiting with Winsor students—working with the Upper School history course Politics of Identity, joining a club meeting with SOMOS (Winsor’s Latinx affinity group), and leading a body positivity activity with Lower School students in Health class. “As I went about my day…The connections and love I saw between you all as you cheered and shared exemplify the Beloved Community. The discussions on gentrification, the housing crisis, and racism to name a small few gave me a glimpse into the passion, dedication, and activism each of you bring to your work at Winsor and the world,” she shared in a note to students.

The Virginia Wing Library will be holding a special contest for faculty and students to receive autographed copies of "The Sancocho Shuffle," the poetic card deck inspired by Guerrero's first collection of poetry. The images are an homage to Lawrence, language, childhood, and community. “I hope The Sancocho Shuffle is another glimpse into how art, activism, and poetry can change the world, and remix the negativity we experience and see into something that centers our story, our voice, and our resistance,” said Guerrero.