The Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly at Oak Harbor High School sparked controversy last week when a student complained about it to a Seattle conservative talk radio host.
An unnamed 15-year-old student texted Todd Herman during a segment where the host was accepting comments from the public. Herman read the text over the air, which said the assembly “was about how America is so racist and anybody with light skin is privileged.” Later the text read, “they put three Black kids up who spent the whole hour telling us how bad America is, how unfair it is for anyone who isn’t white.”
Principal Dwight Lundstrom sent out an email to high school families to “dispel any inaccuracies that may be circulating.” He said the leadership students were given leeway to “craft the assembly in a way that would prompt discussion, draw on their personal experiences and reflect the ideals of Dr. King, including equality and justice.”
The presenters were of Filipino, Latina and African-American descent, said Paige Jackson, one of the presenters. Jackson, a senior who describes herself as mixed and not black, expressed frustration at some of the inaccuracies that were spread about the assembly — including about the race of the students who spoke and their message.
“I think people just interpreted white versus black, and that was not the message of the assembly,” Jackson said. “The message of the assembly was one of peace and equality and moving forward as a generation towards love.”
Lundstrom’s email said the students hoped to generate conversations about equality, race, gender and class, and they were successful at doing so.
“Contrary to circulated claims, at no point during the assembly were ‘white students singled-out’ or was it implied that ‘America’s problems in the black community were due to white people,’” the email said.
Jackson and Jayden Houchin, a leadership student who helped with the assembly, said they felt most parents were understanding after the content of the assembly was explained by Lundstrom.
“I think the thing here is to remember not everything you read is right and to get both sides of the story before you go picking up torches,” Jackson said.