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Eighth Graders Ready for 36th Annual MLK March

Andres David Lopez
[Click here for the 2024 MLK March route and schedule of speakers.]

Amanda said she is freaking out a little about delivering her speech when it is her turn among her classmates at our 36th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative March tomorrow. Writing the speech was easier.

“Honestly, we do so much writing during the year that we were pretty prepared,” she said. “I’m really passionate about my topic so it didn’t feel so much like work.”

These last two weeks, our eighth graders revised and practiced delivering their speeches. They have about two and a half pages or between five and eight minutes for the climactic moment in front of our gathered community and the public. The speeches could be considered the culmination of their time at Manhattan Country School.

“I'm always really proud of them and blown away by where their thinking takes them,” said Tom, our Upper School English teacher. “And so I think for anyone who's interested in MCS and our mission, I think coming to the march and hearing the eighth graders you can get a real sense of how they've grown and their years here.”

Tom has been in charge of helping students craft speeches for the MLK March since 2009. The sets of student speeches at our marches throughout the years are a window into what was important to each class, he said.

This year, climate change and gun violence are big issues. Students are also speaking out about the Israel-Hamas war. 

“They’re just trying to make sense of the world,” Tom said. “They’re really trying to understand what these complicated geopolitical situations mean.”

The 28 speeches cover a wide range of issues. “They’re really proud because they ended up saying something really meaningful and thoughtful about these topics,” Tom said.

Amanda has been at Manhattan Country School since the 4-5s and said she has attended pretty much every MLK March since then. 

Her speech tomorrow will speak to the representation of Latina women in media. The topic is personal to her because she is Chilean American.

In her opening line Amanda cites Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of having a single characterization or perspective about a subject be the dominant story about that subject in culture. 

Next, she quotes Rep. Joaquin Castro about how negative characterizations of Latinos in media can lead to real-world violence. Later, she references the work of Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor at Ohio State who is known for her research on multicultural children’s literature.

Amanda cites statistics and she examines Latina representation in two shows, “Modern Family” and “One Day at a Time.” 

“Children need a way to see themselves reflected in media, need to see others accurately reflected, and need to see people like themselves represented in positive ways so that they can imagine a future with infinite possibilities,” Amanda wrote.

She criticizes the character of Gloria, portrayed by actress Sofía Vergara, in “Modern Family” as contributing to the “spicy Latina” stereotype. 

“The hypersexualization of Latinas makes them more vulnerable to domestic violence,” Amanda wrote. “One in three Latinas will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.”

Amanda didn’t see herself accurately reflected in a character until she saw Elena, portrayed by actress Isabella Gomez, in “One Day at a Time.” About a Cuban-American family, the show highlights the ways Latina characters can be portrayed without relying on stereotypes.

“Elena is a sincere, earnest, bookworm who’s into social justice issues and not into her appearance at all,” Amanda wrote. “Every member of the family is unique and has a distinct connection to their culture.”

Along with Tom and her classmates, Amanda also shared her speech in progress with Tai, a writer and college student who graduated from MCS in 2017. Tai said she appreciated how Amanda used the personal anecdote of her experience with media in her speech.

“We're doing these speeches and they're kind of these big world issues,” Tai said. “But I think if we can relate it to ourselves and our experience that makes it all the more powerful.”

Tai’s speech in 2017 covered mass incarceration and drug laws. Tom shared it with our eighth graders in December as one of seven examples of notable MCS student speeches from previous marches.

“She talked about really nuanced, complicated things with incredible precision and passion,” Tom said. 

Reflecting on Tai’s speech this week, Tom said it would be fair to call it legendary in the history of MCS. His only hesitation would be what other proud alumni would think if he singled her out.

Over the last few months in preparation for writing and delivering the speeches, Tom also shared with our students speeches and writing from Martin Luther King Jr. He reminded them to try to connect their speeches to the work of the civil rights leader and to the theme of this year’s march, “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.”

“A lot of their speeches really connect to that idea of demanding justice now,” Tom said. “For queer folks or for people who experience environmental racism or for people who are unjustly incarcerated. None of those things can wait if we really care about justice and fairness.”
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