Dr. Battinto Batts Jr. offers the idea of service at MLK Youth Voices presentation
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press
Comparing today’s current “Gen Z” youth to the nation’s World War II “Greatest Generation,” the dean of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication encouraged a group of Valley high school students to be of service to their communities, now and in the future.
Dr. Battinto Batts Jr. was the keynote speaker at the 24th annual MLK Youth Voices program at Saguaro High School — part of the Scottsdale Community Celebrating Diversity’s 2024 events commemorating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mr. Batts says he sees that same 1940s-era spirit of service in the eyes of current Cronkite and ASU students and in their desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.
“A lot of people may want to write off this generation and say that they spend so much time on their phones and so much time on social media, they can’t possibly be concerned about what the future of our society is,” Mr. Batts said during his address. “And anyone who would say that to me, I would tell them they’re wrong.”
Mr. Batts encouraged the assembled students to assess their talents to determine how they can best contribute to their communities to help solve key issues, such as demographic change, climate change and political divisions. And the journalism dean challenged students to be discerning about the sources of information they rely on to form opinions.
“Our work is more than just what we’re doing here today,” Mr. Batts explained. “Our work is ongoing in the little conversations you all are having in your classrooms, where you’re learning from each other, when you’re working together. You have so many opportunities to shape our world. We can and will be better, and it is because of you.”
At MLK Youth Voices Dr. Battinto Batts Jr. encourages teens to seek purpose
The MLK Voices event also featured stirring addresses from three Saguaro High School students who described challenges they have already overcome in their young lives.
Senior Parmis Keyhanzad fled Iran with her family when she was 4 years old. They were met with open arms in Austria, she said, only to experience racism upon arriving in the United States.
Ms. Keyhanzad related to the audience that a fifth-grade classmate called her a “terrorist,” making her ashamed of her heritage and go to great lengths to blend in.
“It’s very important to have this platform,“ Ms. Keyhanzad said of the MLK Voices event, “because when one person speaks, then everybody else feels like they are able to speak, and now they don’t feel alone.”
Senior Kendle Garrett shared with the audience her sadness at learning that her and her brother’s first names had no cultural significance in their African American family.
“My mother told us she chose our names so we would fit in. My father chipped in, ‘No one wants to hire someone if they can’t pronounce their name,’” calling her name ‘whitewashed.’
“Every time I think about my name, I am reminded of the oppression that gave my parents this mindset and the family tree cut down before I knew it was there,” she added.
And Saguaro junior Leon Ray described how he has embraced Dr. King’s lesson of uniting people through love.
“Throughout my schooling, I’ve learned kids say a lot of things they don’t mean, so I think it’s important that we are not easily offended, and that we don’t strive to be a victim,” said Mr. Ray. “People that are hurt, hurt people.”
All the more reason, he said, to be a good listener.
“Understanding love is listening. You have one mouth to speak and two ears to listen for a reason,” Mr. Ray concluded.
Second graders from Navajo and Pueblo Elementary schools kicked off the celebration, leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Saguaro Orchestra, Dance Company and Voices chorus also contributed performances to the annual Scottsdale Unified School District MLK event.
Schools in attendance for MLK Youth Voices were:
- Fountain Hills High School, Fountain Hills Unified School District
- Mesquite High School, Gilbert Unified School District
- Westwood High School, Mesa Public Schools
- Horizon, Paradise Valley, Shadow Mountain High schools, Paradise Valley Unified School District
- Arcadia, Chaparral, Coronado, Desert Mountain, Saguaro High schools; Mohave Middle School, Scottsdale Unified School District
- Mountain Pointe High School, Tempe Union High School District