UPPER EAST SIDE — Sarah Baartman, a South African woman who lived in Europe around the turn of the 19th century, was tortured, abused and her body jeered at as part of a human zoo exhibit.
Her rights were ignored and her value diminished to that of an animal, according to Manhattan Country School eighth grader Ajani Nazario.
Ajani was one of several eighth graders who spoke about past injustices and the need to continue the fight for human rights during the Manhattan Country School's 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march.
"After I graduate, I'm going to teach Sarah Baartman's story and hope it reveals the history that has built our present," Ajani said. "For most kids [MLK Jr. Day] is a day off, but for us, it's a day to remember what Martin Luther King did. Today we stand in front of our future home ... where students will be able to speak up analytically and question everything as I have."
Much of the student body met at the school's future home at 150 W. 85th St. st 10 a.m., to hear a series of speeches written by eighth graders, who focused on uncovering misconceptions and injustice, from police brutality to immigration, racism and Islamophobia.
From there, the crowd holding signs, signaling for peace, love and freedom, sang songs as they marched from the Upper West Side to East 96th Street, where the school currently operates.
On the way, the marchers, many of the school's pre-schoolers to eighth graders, stopped at locations that are important to the fight for civil rights, like at Frederick Douglass Circle at 110th St., the Harriet Tubman statue at Saint Nicholas Ave. and 122nd Street and the Islamic Cultural Center on Third Avenue and East 97th street.
Lance Cain, a third grader at the school and Harlem resident, said she wanted to march because it was a way to celebrate MLK's birthday because "he did something to help those who were segregated."
The Manhattan Country School, founded in 1966, is based on the inspiration of Dr. King, according to Angela Meadows, a spokeswoman for the school.
For many, like Upper West Sider Selcuk Ipek, whose daughter Ayla Ipek is in eighth grade at the school, it made sense to join in the march.
The Ipek family is both Muslim and Jewish, he said, and that to march with the school was to stand up for equal treatment and justice and against discrimination.
Manhattan Country School graduate Zack Lee, now a ninth grader at Elisabeth Irwin High School, came back to march with the group with his old classmate Daniel Mintz, a ninth grader at Bard High School Early College.
"It's not only a tradition of the school but we're carrying on the voice of Dr. King," Zack said. "It's important to his legend and his ideas and it brings the whole community together."
"[The march] is representative of 'unity,'" Daniel added. "Seeing the turnout and seeing people singing together and hearing the eye-opening speeches, makes the legacy of MLK prevail."