MLK Diversity Day Celebration returns for another year

Myrtle Hightower tradition lives on nearly 30 years later

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MLK Diversity Day Celebration returns for another year

Students singing and celebrating diversity at the MLK Diversity Day.

Students singing and celebrating diversity at the MLK Diversity Day.

Samantha Jones

Students singing and celebrating diversity at the MLK Diversity Day.

Samantha Jones

Samantha Jones

Students singing and celebrating diversity at the MLK Diversity Day.

Samantha Jones, Staff Writer

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     The 33rd annual MLK Diversity Day Celebration marked another year of the district’s message of acceptance.

     The celebration was started in 1988 by Myrtle Hightower, a counselor for Williams High School, and one of the names behind Hightower Elementary. Since then, every year the Plano school district celebrates diversity in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday. 

     “Dr. Hightower noticed that we [Plano] had no district wide event,” event planner Brittnea Ussery said. “So she created the tribute to Dr. King.”

     Each year has a different theme celebrating not only Dr. King and his works but also different aspects of the district and community.

    “The theme this year is PISD Proud,” Ussery said. “It’s to connect back to the pride of community.”

    This year had performances of spoken word by various speech students and guest speaker Austin Dean Ashford. Ashford performed a mixture of rap and spoken word all over his ukelele. 

     “We always have guest speakers who address our theme, Ussery said. “A long time ago Dr. Hightower even brought Rosa Parks, which was incredible.”    

     The most important part of the night is awards, where diversity is most obviously celebrated. There are four kinds of awards given out at each year’s ceremony: the elementary writing competition winner, the art competition winner, and the diversity awards. 

     The elementary school writing competition had eight winners this year. Students from around the district wrote speeches addressing the theme of Plano ISD Proud.

     The art competition includes all PISD students where they try to represent the theme with their art. There were a few semifinalists and one finalist from every age group, and an overall winner.

     The third through fifth grade finalist, Noa Rotem, goes to Bethany Elementary, a Plano Senior feeder school. Her piece depicts different children with the words “I am PISD proud” written above them and one girl on the end  holds a sign that reads “I have a DREAM…” honoring Dr. King’s infamous speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

     The Diversity Awards are the two most important awards given out, one individual and one group. They are given to members of the district who have worked for more diversity.

    “They can be Plano students, staff or even PTA,” Ussery said. 

     The individual award went to Caitlin Bailey-Garafola from Jasper High School.

     The group award went to another Plano Senior feeder school, Hedgcoxe Elementary, specifically their staff and PTA for nine of their events and programs. They were honored for their Black History Month assembly, “Remember the Past, Influence the Future,” where students showed presentations about influential African Americans, performed a step routine and song, while they heard from two African American Hedgcoxes Alumni, their Multicultural Night, an annual event where different families bring traditional art and food from their home countries, and Diversity squares students made in art class which represented what diversity meant to them.

     “We [PTA] made an even more concerted effort to embrace the diverse population at the school together” Hedgcoxe PTA president Alicia Wanek said.

     There was also musically performances sprinkled throughout the night by a couple choirs and a pre show performed by Plano’s own orchestra group “Evolution.”

     “All of the performances are my favorite part,” Ussery said. “They reflect all ages from our early childhood program all the way through senior high.”

     The finale piece, ‘Proud’, was performed by the Plano Children’s Chorale and Plano West Show Choir. The Plano Children’s Chorale, an after school choir for top elementary age musicians, filled the aisles, while the older choir stood on the stage, creating a surround sound effect. The choirs sang about being proud of themselves, their community and their diversity.

     “I think it’s important because music is a universal language and we got to perform on such an important day,” junior Nika Weiss said. 

     The Diversity Day Celebration started another year of love and acceptance in Plano, after their successful performance at Williams.

     “This day teaches people interpersonal skills, like how to interact with different people,” senior Larry Davis said. “It is super important.”