Students have been learning how their creativity can be used to effect change in the world. Using an example of how Stevie Wonder wrote the Happy Birthday Song to push for the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, art teacher Thankful Davis is showing students how to let their voices be heard through art. murals that encourage, unite and uplift fellow students.
“From Picasso's Guernica to Dorthea Lang's Migrant Mother, art has been a catalyst that moves people toward justice and compassion in a way that other mediums simply cannot,” Mrs. Davis said. “I hope that students at Bright will develop their artistic voices, and by the time they leave these halls of learning and safety, they will see themselves as capable, creative artists. One of our curriculum components is the concept and model that art can be a vehicle for change, and we can use our artistic voices in ways that we might not be able to speak out traditionally.”
One example Mrs. Davis gave students was the creation of the Happy Birthday Song by Stevie Wonder as a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
“Stevie Wonder decided that Congress's failure to honor MLK did not reflect the ideals of most Americans. In 1980 he recorded the ‘Happy Birthday Song’ and added it to his album Hotter than July. Wonder then launched a four-month tour to raise awareness and support for a national MLK day. Many musicians, activists, and artists like Coretta Scott King, Carlos Santana, Diana Ross, Jesse Jackson, and Gill Scott-Heron joined his effort and participated in the tour. During one of the performances, Wonder stated, "If we cannot celebrate a man who died for love, then how can we say we believe in it? It is up to me and you." The national tour was a sweeping success, and public opinion was with MLK day supporters. In 1983 a bill making MLK a federal holiday was brought before the house of representatives and passed with 53 votes. On November second, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law,” Mrs. Davis said.
“After years of hard work and passionate support, Stevie Wonder performed his Happy Birthday Song at the first Martin Luther King Day celebration in 1986. All over the nation, marches, public rallies, church services, teach-ins, candlelight vigils, and cross-country train rides marked the inaugural commencement of that first special day. The tribute in Washington was held on the National Mall and was, of course, marked by Wonder leading the crowd in a rousing sing-along of his Happy Birthday song. In 2014 all of his hard work was officially recognized by our country when President Barak Obama awarded Wonder with the United States Medal of Freedom,” she said.
“Stevie Wonder's dedication and passion for change persuaded our nation to honor the great Dr. Martin Luther King. The MLK Day story is a testament that as artists, our voices and mediums can reach people in a uniquely personal way,” she said. “I hope that all of our students see themselves as artists and changemakers and will never back down from using their voices for justice.”