Poster for Central Point's Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, which sparked controversy.

Crater MLK skit prompts walkout

Divided social media storms have followed a high school skit at a Central Point community event.

Controversy marked Central Point's fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Thursday evening, after locals on social media reacted to a ripped-from-the headlines skit produced by Crater Renaissance Academy students.

In an open letter posted midday Friday, Central Point School District Superintendent Samantha Steele apologized to parents for elements during the event "that could be perceived as inappropriately political, disturbing or unsuitable for younger students."

"An event that was billed as a 'community celebration of MLK' was not the place for explicit and disturbing material," Steele's letter stated in part. "Further, I'm concerned that the tone and some of the material could be construed as more divisive than uniting — the opposite of Dr. King's message."

As of Saturday evening, the Central Point School District Facebook post containing the letter had drawn 175 comments, 45 shares and 25 reactions — including eight "angry" and one "sad."

In an email, Steele said that the bulk of complaints about the performance stemmed from a "video clip depicting police brutality." Southern Oregon University professor Alma-Rosa Alvarez, a keynote speaker at the event, said the video was that of Eric Garner telling New York police "I can't breathe" in the minutes before his death in 2014.

Alvarez said she believed some parents were "objecting to the portrayal of police officers" rather than children seeing video of a man die.

"How is it acceptable to put down our President and our Law Enforcement Officers that are there daily to help the school," one comment said on the school district's page.

Parent Tina Waddell said the same performance included a depiction of President Trump calling Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas" in front of a Navajo elder, as the president did in November.

"The kids were like, how is this the world we live in?" Waddell said.

"People were challenged to think about the things that divide us," Alvarez said. "The things that were brought up were things that were used to divide us."

Alvarez said that point was emphasized in closing addresses that she and speaker Marjorie Trueblood-Gamble made. Starting with an audience filling three-quarters of the Crater Performing Arts Center, Alvarez said only a couple of dozen heard her closing remarks.

"I think by the time we spoke, only 30 people were in the audience," Alvarez said. "They didn't get to hear the spirit of the whole event."

Audience member Anna Aguilar, who was supporting a cousin in the skit, said she's surprised by the social media reaction. She said she has a 4-year-old who sat through the whole thing.

"I didn't believe the performance was in any way offending," Aguilar said on a Facebook message. "Matter of fact, I went to congratulate the director at the end because I enjoyed it."

Her cousin only learned there were complaints when her teachers couldn't discuss his performance for critique. The complaints upset him, Aguilar said.

Crater Renaissance Academy declined comment, but Alvarez defended the political tones in the event as true to the civil rights leader.

"[Martin Luther King] stood outside of politics in a way, but he had a political stance in the way of demanding accountability," Alvarez said.

He later drew controversy for opposing the Vietnam War, Alvarez said. "The message was always about love, but we don't hear the pushback.

"People in the Civil Rights movement were like, 'Dude what are you doing?'" Alvarez said. "He's always been full of controversy."

People have a tendency to think of Martin Luther King "in soundbites," according to Alvarez.

"He's sort of been sanitized in a way," Alvarez said. "He's kind of like the 'good' African American as opposed to Malcolm X who's like the 'bad' one."

For other commenters, the controversy was not fair to high school kids who meant well.

"I know a lot of the students in the program. They definitely were not trying to offend anyone," a comment said. "They are teenagers and they were expressing themselves."

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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