LucStrong spirit perseveres despite cancellation of video and seminars

District expresses discomfort regarding topics to be discussed during Luc Bodden Week

Oak Park families gather in front of the Luc Bodden Tree located at the entrance of Red Oak Elementary School on Luc Bodden Day.

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Oak Park families gather in front of the Luc Bodden Tree located at the entrance of Red Oak Elementary School on Luc Bodden Day.

By Bailey Andera, Oak Park High School - CA

Instead of the usual Luc Bodden Day, the week of Sept. 14 through Sept. 18 was deemed Luc Bodden Week, and was hosted by the LucStrong Foundation. 

Bodden was born with sickle cell anemia and later received a bone marrow transplant when he was seven years old. At the age of 10, Bodden died of a post-operative infection on Sept. 14, 2016. That day has since been pronounced by the unincorporated community of Oak Park as Luc Bodden Day in his memory. 

The week was centered around reaching the Oak Park community and giving Oak Park Unified School District students something to help them with distance learning and COVID-19-inspired stress. This is conveyed with the spreading of awareness of values such as gratitude, compassion and “simply love,” according to Oak Park High School alumnus JD Slajchert, author of “MoonFlower,” a book based on his time spent with Luc Bodden. 

A week-long discussion was scheduled to be held for OPUSD students during Luc Bodden Week, complete with a video and live Zoom seminars hosted by Slajchert. However, the night prior to the beginning of Luc Bodden Week, district staff reached out to Slajchert expressing discomfort regarding the subjects to be discussed.

According to Stacy and Matthew Bodden, Luc’s mother and father and co-founders of the LucStrong Foundation, the reasoning given to those involved with Luc Bodden week was that the district felt that teachers were not adequately prepared to properly honor and support Luc’s legacy. This was largely due to the lack of “connectedness” that such conversations would require, particularly with respect to younger grades. 

The district expressed its wishes to hold Luc’s memory in high regards and with much care, and thus hopes to revisit Slajchert’s video and subsequent conversations when it can be done in person. 

“Of course, we were disappointed on many levels, but one of the major disappointments was the fact that we felt like this was a missed opportunity for the students within the Oak Park School District to have a conversation surrounding some of these very relevant issues, mainly systemic racism,” Matthew Bodden said. 

For the past two years, current OPUSD Safety and Equity Coordinator Holly Baxter has worked with the LucStrong Foundation in bringing its message to the Oak Park community. 

“Luc meant so much to many of our staff, families, and students, [though] without the on-campus connection during discussions about his struggle with sickle cell disease, there was a concern for the integrity of this conversation as well as the ability for all of our students to feel supported during what could be a difficult topic,” Baxter wrote to the Talon. 

Slajchert worked alongside the district to create a schedule for the week. During that time, he had planned to spend time talking about Luc, encompassing topics such as gratitude and racial issues with regards to  healthcare.

“As disappointing for me and the LucStrong Foundation as it was, ultimately it’s the students that lost out on a great opportunity. I know these conversations could be challenging, but if not now, then when?” Slajchert wrote to the Talon. 

This year, Slajchert hoped to convey a message of unity. He expressed that the differences in race between him, a white man, and Luc, a Black boy, never proved to be an obstacle that prevented them from becoming best friends. 

“In the world we are currently living in, that message can be lost and we wanted to take the opportunity this year to put the focus back on that in the hopes that we could help these kids see that race has nothing to do with the content of someone’s character,” Slajchert wrote. “Love is more important than anything.”

According to Baxter, OPUSD elementary schoolers were shown a tribute video provided by the LucStrong Foundation and learned of Bodden’s story this year. Previously, schools had hosted learning events that were centered around the LucStrong Pledge

“I pledge to be Loving, Understanding, Caring, Sympathetic, Thoughtful, Respectful, Open-minded, Nice, and Good towards all of my classmates, friends, faculty, family, and members of my community,” the pledge reads.

Baxter hopes that OPUSD students will continue to feel connected to Luc’s legacy, and that they are inspired by hisattitude, generosity of spirit and commitment to kindness and gratitude.”

Regardless of whether or not the topics were discussed, Baxter feels that ultimately, Luc Bodden Week was never truly canceled. 

The LucStrong Foundation works tirelessly to support families battling with sickle-cell disease and Luc Bodden [Week] is just one part of bringing awareness to this terrible disease and its impact on the African-American community,” Baxter wrote. 

According to Slajchert, the LucStrong Foundation still hopes to convey its message to OPUSD and the rest of the Oak Park community. They believe that it is an important conversation to have, though understand  it has to be handled appropriately. 

“I have been giving speeches on race and my unique relationship with Luc in high schools and middle schools all over the state, so I would love to come back to my home district that raised me and give that same talk,” Slajchert wrote. “In fact, it really would be a dream come true. I think it would mean a lot to Luc.”

The Boddens hope that the topics that were to be discussed during Luc Bodden Week will be discussed at a later date due to their importance. 

“Black history is American History, and that is one thing that we as a district and a community cannot run from,” Stacy Bodden said. “We cannot be afraid of it.”