Interlochen community honors Martin Luther King, Jr. with art, music, and conversation

The campus-wide celebration featured special performances and a talk with author and NPR television critic Eric Deggans.

Author and NPR television critic Eric Deggans

Author and NPR television critic Eric Deggans addresses students at a special Martin Luther King, Jr. Day community meeting.

An Arts Academy student performs a poem during a community meeting

An Arts Academy student performs George Moses Horton's poem "On Liberty and Slavery" during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day community meeting. 

Eric Deggans speaks with students during a Q&A session

Eric Deggans speaks with students during a Q&A session in the DeRoy Commons.

On Monday, Jan. 17, the Interlochen Arts Academy community gathered together to celebrate and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. through performances and dialogue.

“Today, we are excited to think about the legacy of one man, Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Esther Triggs said at a special all-school convocation at Corson Auditorium. “But it’s important to understand that he knew that he was one man, just like each of you is one person. You have the opportunity to ignite a nation just as Martin Luther King, Jr. did.”

Guest speaker Eric Deggans, NPR’s first-ever television critic and the author of Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, gave a presentation about King’s legacy, the history of race in the United States, and how the media influences public perceptions of people of color.

“[King] made open racism socially unacceptable,” Deggans said. “There was a time when I could be walking down the street and a white person could call me the n-word, and that would be acceptable. Because of his work, everyone in this country knows that’s wrong.”

Deggans encouraged audience participation during the program, calling on several students to answer questions and inviting all audience members to take an informal three-question quiz about portrayals of Black people in the media.

“Do your own research and find your own facts,” Deggans said. “Try to get past the misleading media images.”

The convocation also featured a short video about King’s support of the Indigenous community, a brief excerpt from his book Why We Can’t Wait, and several performances: John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” performed by Arts Academy jazz students; excerpts from two original works, “Rosemary” and “Lavender Boy,” by senior creative writer Simone Chaney; and William Grant Still’s “Miniatures,” performed by Instructor of Flute Nancy Stagnitta and Instructor of Oboe Dane Philipsen.

The program closed with a standing ovation for Deggans and two more student performances—a recitation of “On Liberty and Slavery” by George Moses Horton and a performance of John Legend’s “Glory.” Following the community meeting, students engaged further with Deggans during a drop-in Q&A session in the DeRoy Commons. Members of the Black Student Union and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Student Voice Team also had the opportunity to eat lunch with Deggans.

"It was an honor to have the chance to share my work with my peers, especially pieces that hold such a dear place in my heart,” Chaney said. “And the opportunity to speak with Mr. Deggans—to meet a working artist actively working towards social change—was unparalleled. He helped start conversations across campus that I hope will last a long time."

The day concluded with “Open Gym and Open Hearts,” a student gathering at the Dennison Center for Recreation and Wellness to write thank-you notes to Interlochen’s volunteers.