MLK Day- Should it be used to advocate for other minority groups’ rights?



A poster of MLK with his quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkenss; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” is displayed in the commons.

Brooklyn LaMie, Writer

With MLK day just behind us and the MLK assembly in the near future, a lot of students have been wondering if this year’s assembly will be used to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights as it has been in recent years. This has been a hot topic not only in the world, but in Arlington High School specifically.

In 2017, when we heard speakers from the LGBTQ+ community at our school, members of the student body walked out of the assembly. They stood up, and while some made their exit known and others left quietly, there were a good number of students who left.

In 2019, we listened to a Hispanic speaker, and many wondered what he had to do with Martin Luther King. Students were upset by this assembly as well. 

This lead to much controversy in the community, as some people felt that those who walked out back in 2017 were being horrible disrespectful and closed-minded, while others felt that using an assembly meant to acknowledge a civil rights activist was being “twisted” to instead defend the LGBTQ+ community. 

Whichever side you were on, or if you were somewhere in the middle, the question for the future is not about the people walking out, but rather if it was acceptable to conduct the assembly in that matter in the first place. Should MLK day be used to acknowledge the fight for any minority groups’ rights, or should it specifically recognize Martin Luther and the Civil Rights Movement. 

On one hand, people feel that MLK day is meant to celebrate MLK and his accomplishments in the Civil Rights Movement, and that anything else is taking away from his purpose, and asking for people to not appreciate his day anymore because they don’t believe in the other causes being celebrated. On the other hand, some people believe that there is no better incentive to draw eyes to the other minority movements such as the LGBTQ+ rights movement than drawing parallels to the Civil Rights Movement. Members of the Arlington community feel strongly both ways. 

Megan Barnett, senior and member of LGBTQ+ club, believes that there should be no problem with advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and conveying MLK’s purpose simultaneously in schools. In fact, she said “I do think it’s in an interesting day to advocate for it, because it’s not really our struggle… it’s an interesting day to do it but I think it’s important to. As a priest I think MLK would be all for ‘We should love our neighbor’”. 

Barnett believes that the things Martin Luther King Jr. did and said apply to everyone in their fight for equality. His words make her believe that he would have supported every group that has been discriminated against in their struggles, and that if he were alive today he would think a school assembly should be used to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. 

That being said, she also recognized that it is a lot more personal than that. “The world is slowly changing and some people weren’t ready for that, and that’s okay.” While Barnett thinks MLK day should advocate for equality and justice for all groups that need the help, she also said, “I think the celebration for MLK day is going to be a very personal thing but in schools it should be advocated for… It should be celebrated in whatever fashion makes the most sense.”

Jayla Nelson, senior and chair of the MLK assembly because she’s on Diversity Council, believes very differently than Barnett. As she is and African-American student herself, she thinks that “they should kind of be seperate, because I know that Martin Luther King, yes, he did fight for equality, but specifically his main focus was equality for civil rights and blacks and whites kinda thing… and there’s different minority groups that have different things for them, so for example the LGBTQ has their movements going on, the same thing as Hispanics, and other races that have different ways of dealing with their situations and I feel like it should be kept separate because it’s kinda two seperate things.” 

In our school, Nelson believes MLK day hasn’t been represented that well in the past. “The focal point has been a little twisted, I guess you could say, and the reason I see the different minority groups should stay seperate is because it’s different dealing with racial discrimination than dealing with discrimination for who you are,” Nelson said. This year’s assembly will be different. “We’re really trying to just bring his message back to life and implement the background people and people who stood alongside him and his work. We’re mainly just trying to make sure it stays true to what he really did.”

The school’s principal Mr. Fish believes strongly that the question shouldn’t just be about whether LGBTQ+ rights should be advocated for, but any minority rights and he’s absolutely right. But ultimately he recognizes that the school has handled the celebration of MLK wrong in the past and he has played a key role in starting up a Diversity Council here at AHS to help make sure that minority groups get a say in how their respective holidays are portrayed and how they affect each group. Our school is 28% people who consider themselves ‘non-white minorities’ which is a much larger percentage than people think. 

Ultimately, Mr. Fish believes our school shouldn’t use MLK day to advocate for other minorities’ rights, saying, “It’s about making sure blacks had equal rights… The impact that [MLK] had on the society we have today is tremendous, and there’s no reason to distract from that work or to ask black history month and MLK day to be anything but that. I think we’re more mindful of the feelings of every student when we do that.”

In the end, it’s your decision on whether or not MLK day should go beyond MLK or focus on him is up to you, and whichever your viewpoint is it’s valid. Diversity Council has decided to take a different route for this upcoming assembly and focus specifically on MLK and on Civil rights, but you can celebrate however you want. In the end, all that matters is that you are respectful of other people’s views and how they want to celebrate the holiday. Going into the MLK assembly next week just remember to be respectful of everyone, because that’s the basis of what we’re celebrating after all.