LANCASTER — Justice Sunday will return to the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, on Sunday, with a student-produced play that commemorates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..
This year’s play, “ENDEAVOUR —A Two-Year Journey,” was written by Justice Sunday Alumni and students from the Antelope Valley Union High School District. This is the eighth year that AV Union High School District students produced a play for Justice Sunday in partnership with the City of Lancaster.
Students from Antelope Valley High School, Eastside High School, Lancaster High School, Quartz Hill High School and SOAR High School participated. The students worked over their winter break. They started, Dec. 20. They wrote the play and created music and artwork for the play. They will also act in the play.
“From writing to performing in 30 days is just phenomenal,” Justice Sunday coordinator Nigel Holly said, Thursday, at a press conference at Antelope Valley High School.
“ENDEAVOUR —A Two-Year Journey” tells the history of slavery.
“To present it in such a way to where you still laugh and enjoy the presentation and you’ll walk away with some information that you didn’t have before,” Holly said.
The play will talk about Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday last year. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The name comes from June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Texas learned they were free.
“It will talk about the journey of a husband losing his wife and the two years it took for him to get her back,” Holly said. “These kids have done a phenomenal job.”
India Schmidt, now a student at Antelope Valley College, serves as president of the Justice Sunday Alumni.
“I am honestly honored to be president of this alumni and what it stands for and the program as a whole,” Schmidt said. “My experience has been nothing but positive over the last two years.
“Working with Justice Sunday has been a very great experience,” student director Reyna Cordon said. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it because I was not really familiar with what it was. But once I got the email, something in me just knew that I should probably participate in it. I don’t know what it was, but I’m glad I did.”
Cordon learned a lot about Juneteenth as she wrote the script.
“As a Latina, although I am white, I think it’s very important that all communities learn about the struggle and the journey of slavery and segregation,” she said. “It was very important to me that I got everything accurate while still providing, as Nigel said, comedy and enjoyment through the script and through the actors.”
Eastside High School senior Nyla Windon, an assistant director, said the program was difficult in the beginning.
“We were just basically given a prompt and was told like, ‘Alright, make a play, make a script, make something happen,’ ” Windon said. “It was difficult to get that history and get that meaning of trying to create a play that was also engaging and something that people would enjoy.”
Senior Ava Kent agreed.
“The writing process was a struggle for us,” Kent said. “But as an actor and a writer, I know that all of us can bring justice to the story and provide a good message to everyone about these times that were unfair and unjust.”
“It is a true honor to be a part of this,” Lancaster High School senior actor Anthony Parra said.
Parra did not know if he wanted to be a part of the production.
“It was a truly remarkable experience because I want to pursue this as a career,” he said. “Seeing other people in this cast pursuing this exact same thing was truly great.”
Eastside High School sophomore Michael Pieniaszek also wasn’t sure whether he wanted to participate in the program because he portrays a racist character.
“I didn’t want people to think that’s how I am, like how I present as a person,” Pieniaszek said. “But then I realized that this is for the history, this is what they did back then and I need to represent that history.”
Bishop Henry Hearns acknowledged the City of Lancaster’s support for the program.
“Whatever we’ve need in terms of dollars and cents, somehow or other the City of Lancaster have made that work for us so that we could get the dollars we needed to provide a healthy program, an educational program, and a program that tells the story of our country and bring it to where it is,” Hearns said.
“It’s a celebration of Dr. King, it’s a recognition of the history of the country and it’s really about the work that our students produce,” AV Union High School District Superintendent Greg Nehen said. “I am so anxious to see what the students have written and what the students have to say.”
The play will be presented at 4 p.m., Sunday, at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center. There is no cost to attend. All attendees will be required to wear a mask. In addition, all attendees will be required to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance.
The performance will also be presented at 6 p.m., Jan. 21, at the Palmdale Playhouse.