Exploring the music of the Civil Rights Movement

Mar 2, 2020 | Culture, Music, News, On Campus

Martin Luther King Jr. Day has historically been celebrated over one full day at the Upper School, but this year’s programming—focused on the music of the civil rights movement—was spread out over one week. Discussions, workshops, and a screening of the 2009 documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution honored the life and legacy of the civil rights activist.

PreK-12 Equity & Social Justice Director Alegria B. chose Sound of Revolution as this year’s theme; she wanted to focus on music rather than another “really big, intense topic” like class, faith, and solidarity—the themes of past MLK Day programming.

“I wanted to do something that was lighter but still very meaty and powerful,” Alegria said.

She also wanted a theme that would have broader applications beyond the civil rights movement and relate to current events. This year, she had seen an increasing movement to “reclaim MLK,” a campaign to explain the complexities of Rev. Dr. King as an individual beyond just the civil rights movement.

On Monday and Tuesday, students discussed this along with King’s role in the movement and the deification of his work and legacy.

“Martin Luther King was a pretty complex, really gifted individual and we’ve done him a disservice to reduce him to the figurehead,” Alegria said. “Because it’s so far removed for most of us historically, I think we forget just truly how revolutionary that movement was and how much all of us have to be grateful to 

I see MLK programming as a chance to broaden students’ perspectives beyond what they know to help them understand the true revolutionary nature of equality. I really appreciated being able to help students see the origins of rap within this very historical context.

Danielle D.

Math Coordinator and Teacher

those people and how much they gave—including their own lives—to make that happen.”

Beyond King’s legacy, Alegria also felt that the conversations provided a “reset” for the school.

“Because we are having a lot of difficult conversations about race and we’ve been talking about the n-word and racial microaggressions, I felt like it was important to remind people about what we’re talking about and the history we come from,” Alegria said. “At the same time, I think the more you live in a bubble—and I would say the Bay Area and Nueva is a bubble—the easier it is sometimes to reduce a lot of ideas to fairly simple ones rather than to seek out nuance and complexity.”

The first two days were geared towards asking the community to be conscious of reducing ideas and try to see where things are “always more complicated than we think they are,” whereas Wednesday’s screening of Soundtrack for a Revolution tied in more to the theme of music.

“It felt like a good opportunity to not only get into music but also give this overview,” Alegria said, noting that some students felt they didn’t have the necessary background knowledge of the movement.

Thursday and Friday were dedicated to workshops that covered a wide range of topics including the history of “Amazing Grace” and protest music around the world.

The weeklong format for MLK Day 

It is such a treat to be able to pause as a school and explore a set of themes inspired by MLK. I only wish
I could have attended some of the other workshops because each one seemed fascinating.

Tom D.

Upper School History Teacher

programming was introduced this year after being suggested to Barclay as a way to integrate with the schedule and combat the fatigue students might feel after sitting for hours.

As for how celebrations of MLK Day will take place next year, Alegria said that the ultimate decision depends on a lot of other factors like the next upper school division head and their plans, but that she wants more student involvement regardless.

“I would like to collaborate more with students next year and have them be more responsible for part of it,” Alegria said. “In a sense, I want to put myself out of a job. I want to move it along so that eventually students are owning it more than I.”