Allen Park High School hosted its third annual celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday Monday. Above: Members of the Allen Park High School’s choir perform while boxes containing intangible gifts like peace and love line the stage. The boxes were modeled after a project by artist Franck de Las Mercedes, and delivered throughout the school. Top: Singer Thornetta Davis closes the assembly with a performance of “We are the World.”
By ANDREA POTEET
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – When Allen Park High School Principal Janet Wasko walked into her office Monday morning, a surprise was waiting for her.
On her desk was an ornately decorated U. S. Postal Service Priority Mail shipping box with a unique gift inside.
“A student gave me the gift of possibility,” she said. “Students were spreading those messages throughout the whole school building.”
As part of the school’s “day on” to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, students decorated over 9,000 shipping boxes with intangible gifts such as peace, hope, unity and brotherhood. The idea was borrowed from Nicaraguan artist Franck de Las Mercedes, who has sent similar boxes throughout the world since 2006.
Students delivered the boxes to school faculty, and some were presented on stage as part of the school’s third annual Martin Luther King Jr. assembly. Many others were arranged on the stage during the event, in which students and guests performed in celebration of King’s messages of equality and peace.
“I like to think of it as an educational opportunity that if we were out of school, the students wouldn’t have,” Wasko said. “Normal instruction stops, and we talk about how King’s message relates to us and how we can make a difference today.”
The program began 10 years ago as a partnership with West Bloomfield School District, but when that district switched its assembly to a Sunday three years ago, APHS launched its own.
In addition to the boxes, this year’s event, which had the theme “Making a Change,” also included a reading from
junior Sarah Stites, who beat out 16 other students in a schoolwide Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest. Her essay focused on small changes that can be made every day to improve the lives of others.
“(Dr. King) taught us that the difference in the world started with us, each single person,” Stites wrote. “In a time of crisis, he had the ability to put his foot in the door once he had the perfect chance and create a life-changing outlook.”
Stites urged others to look for similar chances on a smaller scale, such as giving a compliment or taking the time to ask someone how they are doing.
Stites was awarded $100 and given another $100 to be donated to a charity of her choice. She chose the suicide prevention organization To Write Love on Her Arms.
This year’s event also included a spoken-word performance by local actress Madelyn Porter and a sign language rendition of the book “Whoever You Are,” by Bennie Elementary School fourth-graders. Detroit Music Hall of Fame singer Thornetta Davis closed the show with a rendition of the song “We are the World,” with the high school choir.
Wasko said she hopes the students came out of the event with a deeper level of understanding of their peers.
“We hope that there would be a greater appreciation for the struggles of everyone who’s been disenfranchised or feels not included,” she said, “an awareness of differences, but an understanding that we do have commonalities, and we can reach out to gain a greater understanding.”