By Lynne Hamer, Ph.D.
Special to the Truth
The Fifth Annual Our Time to Break Silence: A Community Reading of Dr. Martin Luther King’s A Time to Break Silence features Toledo’s children and youth sharing spoken word poetry, songs, and visual art on the theme of BREAKING SILENCE.
The FREE community event will take place on Saturday, March 25, at 3 pm, with doors open at 2:30. It is held at Monroe Street Church, 3613 Monroe Street, Toledo. All are invited to attend.
Given one year to the day before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King’s Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence motivated the American public across lines that had formerly divided groups.
This is the fifth Toledo area reading of the speech, bringing together representatives from 29 area organizations and over 100 area students to celebrate and be inspired by this lesser-known but vitally important work. Most famously, Dr. King described the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and urged all citizens to unite to confront “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.”
The MLK organizers invited Toledo Public Schools to cosponsor the event, focused on the theme of youth breaking silence and asking:
ABOUT WHAT DO WE NEED TO BREAK SILENCE?
HOW ARE YOUTH AND OTHERS ALREADY BREAKING SILENCE?
ARE WE LISTENING?
Many teachers across the area answered the call from Toledo Public’s Department of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to support their students to participate in Saturday’s presentation of the speech.
Edward McDaniel’s fifth grade class at TPS’s Escuela SMART Academy composed the poem The Way We See It, to be recited by classmates Edward McDaniel III and Santiago Ellis. Both composing and reciting the poem were valuable learning experiences: McDaniels observed, “Breaking the silence entails a level of discomfort to give voice to vulnerable communities that would otherwise go unheard. Young people today face many challenges and rarely are given the space to process their frustrations. This event will afford our youth the opportunity to speak to the pressures of life while confronting the ills plaguing our society.”
Dianne Stubblefield-Moore, music teacher at Ann Jerkins-Harris Academy of Excellence, composed Break the Silence to be performed by children from her school. “It’s very important for the children to know more about what MLK values were and not about all the common speeches. MLK had principles he lived by each and every day,” Stubblefield-Moore said.
TPS high school students are breaking silences at the event, too. Senior Cheyenne Metz, of Rogers High School and Toledo’s MADD Poets, will perform her original spoken word composition, When I Speak. The Rogers High School Mass Choir, under the direction of Dr. Joan Walldorf, will perform two rousing numbers, while students from Westfield High School, taught by Peggy Martinez, will speak out through sculpture.
Martinez stated, “It can be hard for teenagers to speak their truth. I facilitate a space in the art room for my students to use art as a way to say the things they can’t, or don’t want to say. Our art room is a safe space and the art they created for this rally was focused on process and the ability to convey what is hard to talk about.” Martinez’s students created sculptures, then recorded their artists’ statements about their work.
The sculptures, along with the statements available via QR code, will be the center of a BREAKING HARD SILENCES art exhibit representing work from many TPS schools’ students, as well as UToledo and community artists. Community poets and musicians will further contribute to the event.
The heart of the event remains the chorale reading of Dr. King’s speech, but the emphasis is on making it relevant for today. The MLK 2023 Breaking Silence Organizing Committee’s mission statement for the annual reading includes to “inform and educate young people about Dr. King’s important impact, …build the movement to break silence, promote dialogue, and engage in nonviolent direct action, and recognize the relevance of Dr. King’s words half a century later and to continue to “Break the Silence” today.” Bringing Toledo Public Schools into the event as a cosponsor has been an important step toward realizing the mission.
Amerah Archer, EdD, acting executive director of the Department of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Toledo Public Schools, explained why TPS is cosponsoring this year’s event: “This event gives our students and community members an opportunity to express themselves in whatever artistic form they desire. Events like Break Our Silence are so important because we want our students to know that we want to hear their voices and their concerns and celebrate them for using their talent to advocate for what they believe in.”
Teachers amplify the need to expose their students to work by community activists and other citizens in order to educate their youth for participation in democratic society. McDaniel stated, “My goal is to cultivate the seeds of empowerment that enable young people to take action and advocate for the betterment of the people. I simply want to equip my students with the experience and exposure needed to navigate the intricacies of the world they inhabit.”
Learning and equipping go both ways: Martinez requested, “When looking at our Westfield art, we would like you to focus on the spaces young adults take up and why it is important to listen to who they are and what matters to them.”
Please attend this Saturday, March 25, 3 pm (doors open at 2:30), Monroe Street Church, 3613 Monroe Street, Toledo. Questions? Contact the MLK 2023 Break Silence Organizing Committee at 419-283-8288 (call or text) or c/o firstname.lastname@example.org. The author is part of the committee.