MRH Successful Counter Protest for Theatrical Performance
Promoting Peace and Diversity For the Arts
In the director's notes of the Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School theatre performance playbill for this fall's feature play "The Laramie Project", Theatre Director Holly Potthoff states, "My
hope is that you leave tonight with compassion, open-mindedness, and the
hope of peace in our communities." I had the same hope when I left the play that night. But perhaps a bit more so after having witnessed the event that took place that afternoon.
For those of you who don't know, "The Laramie Project" is a documentary play based on the events
surrounding the gruesome 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay university student in Laramie, Wyoming. According to their website, it is one of the most performed plays in America today.
It is my strong belief that perhaps the Baptist group that traveled all the way from Kansas to protest this MRH performance, have never seen this play before, despite the fact that they are constant protestors of it. I tell you, I've heard of people like this, but to see it in real life, to see their signs, I wanted to puke. Part of me really died.
Artists around the world are subject to all sorts of criticism and opinions from others. For creators (whether you are an artist, sculptor, performer, or any other sort of creator of art's various forms) there may come a time when your voice, your work, will be disagreed with, sometimes severely. To me, it's even worse when that negativity comes from people who either don't understand the work of art, or from those who are against it for a reason that doesn't have to do with your work at all. Some will simply see and use your art as an opportunity and a platform to voice their own opinions which, at best, may be tied by a weak thread, and which stem from a close-minded moral, sexual, religious, or political fear.
Yes, art is subject to protests. MRH High School's theatrical performance of "The Laramie Project" was no exception to scrutiny based on subject matter. And yet, they saw the protest by a certain group of close minded out of towners as an opportunity to show their students (and the rest of the world) just how much the strength of community could achieve by countering acts of hate with acts of peaceful support and an appreciation of the diversity that makes our communities strong. People of all ages, backgrounds, organizations, and townships across St. Louis, stood together in counter protest. It was quite a beautiful sight.
Their success came from what the MRH school district teaches their students every day. Kevin Grawer, Principal of MRH High School, begins each day with important words of wisdom for all his students and faculty. His morning announcements include messages of support and respect for each and every one of us.
"Everybody deserves respect just for being human." Principal Grawer says. "Love everybody. Disagree respectfully, calmly, and with class, regardless of how others disagree."
In response to the protesters that traveled quite some distance with their hate filled signs, Principal Grawer had this to say, "It served as a great opportunity for us to unify. They don't know what they did for us."
I had the opportunity to speak with one of MRH High School's Assistant Principals, Dr. Deann Meyers. She too was thrilled with the outcome of their counter protest. Not only because of their success and communal support, but mostly because of the eye opener it was for students.
"Typically in the students' experience, diversity is discussed as the ratio between black and white students. On occasion they understand it as the differences in economic status. Matthew Sheppard's story allowed a vast broadening of their view on the issue. Not only did the anti-rally demonstrate that the overall MRH community, and St. Louis community for that matter, were supportive of diversity in the broad sense, it created a tangible, visual memory of vastly different groups within the community coming together for the cause of love and peace. Tolerance is not enough, acceptance and coexistence is the message we want our students to walk away from this with." ~Dr. Meyers
Their counter protest served as the perfect means for putting to use all that MRH stands for. A hands on teaching experience for the children to learn from, which came from an unexpected moment. One which MRH took on without fear.
Part of my personal admiration for the MRH school district comes from the fact that they have encompassed global education at a critical time for its students and they continue to grow in this regard every day. To be successful in global education, I believe each and every child must be exposed to a wide number of diversities in a way that is all encompassing, a way that goes beyond tolerance, and goes instead into a broader state of acceptance and understanding. Dr. Meyers feels the same way. It is one of the reasons the high school has started a Cornerstone Club, a club she is passionate about, in which students get to communicate and work with diverse groups of children from other countries. Meyers says it all comes back to how much we can expose our students to and the messages we give them along the way.
"MRH has many projects that are exposing our students to world wide issues, cultures, and experiences. One of the goals of this global education is not only to broaden the students' view of the world, but to also enlighten them to see the domestic issues that face this generation. MRH is a welcoming, diverse community. We encompass two municipalities, black, white, rich, poor, middle class, and everywhere in between. The Laramie Project became a perfect platform for the introduction of a deeper study into diversity.
Mr. Love and I were high fiving the teamwork we were witnessing and being a part of. Our excitement over the turn out, the diversity of the people at the event, and the overwhelmingly positive behavior that was demonstrated led to the high five." ~Dr. Meyers
I have to say, that as a mother and fellow human, I am proud to be a part of this community.
It is important for each and every one of us to have our own opinions
about anything in this world. But how and where we choose to voice
those opinions along with the knowledge we are forming them with, is equally important.
And one thing that each and every one of us have to face, is the
possibility that we, ourselves, may at one time or another, find
ourselves on either side of the coin.
All photos in the following galleries by Michelle PG Richardson ©. Please e-mail for permissions, etc.