April 29, 2022
By Kelli Gile, WVUSD Office of Community Resources
DIAMOND BAR, CA--Over 1,100 Diamond Bar High students recently experienced The Open Letter Project live reading of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
“You are going to hear one of the most important documents in our national history read aloud to you,” shared drama teacher Jared Kaitz introducing the inaugural performance.
“This is meant to give you new eyes to see the world!”
Fifty volunteers seamlessly presented the voice of King, a Baptist minister and civil rights activist killed in 1968, during two March 4 assemblies held in the gymnasium.
"Coming out of the pandemic, it felt as if there was a disconnect in the community due to being isolated for so long,” shared junior Ryan Chung.
“The Open Letter Project helped reclaim some of that, and it was an amazing experience to be a part of."
Each reader was assigned a paragraph to deliver from inside a mock jail cell borrowed from the drama department.
“I had been thinking about presenting the letter in a live reading for a few years,” said teacher Dena Lordi who incorporates the essay in the IB Theory of Knowledge course curriculum.
“When it finally went off and I heard the students start reading, I got goosebumps!”
International Baccalaureate (IB) and Black Student Union (BSU) members organized the impressive event, recruiting student readers from Theory of Knowledge, drama, dance, instrumental and vocal music, visual art, US History, English Language, mathematics, student clubs, along with six staff members.
Reader Isaac Miao, a senior and BSU member, shared that that experience was “an immense and touching moment.”
“The atmosphere in the gym when we were listening to voices present such a heartfelt speech was incomparable.”
“It was so cool seeing the audience members lean forward while listening to the words of MLK for the first time,” recalled IB senior Joyce Yoo.
Assemblies featured a student speech by junior Olivia James, winner of the Council of African American Parent’s annual Stand and Deliver Oratorical contest and sophomore Sophia Morookian performed the song Stand Up from the film Harriet.
Senior Gabriel Nunag wrote an orchestral piece for The Open Letter Project, but COVID restrictions prohibited the performance when the event was moved indoors due to an inclement weather forecast.
King wrote the persuasive letter on scraps of paper in response to a letter from eight Alabama clergymen detailing civil unrest in Birmingham.
The historical document presents the perspectives and experiences of Black Americans during the 1960’s and provides a road map to a more peaceful society that holds itself accountable to justice and the promise that all human beings are created equal.
“The letter itself is an impressive work, but it also relates nicely to what we study,” Lordi said.
“Most important, the letter speaks about how the need for social justice is immediate. That need was true during the civil rights movement, but our students recognize that it is also true in our current society.”
Student organizers also presented interactive activities, including a tile art project, during lunch.
“Dr. King’s legacy was championed through this project that accomplished many profound lessons for our students and staff,” shared Principal Dr. Reuben Jones.
“It embodies the essence of collaboration, social justice, historical relevancy, and social emotional learning, to name a few!”
Diamond Bar High School students experience the live reading of Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail on March 4.
Diamond Bar High students join The Open Letter Project interactive activities.
Diamond Bar High staff members participate in The Open Letter Project.