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King’s dream lives on in students’ passion

By Maxwell Price

Section: Arts

January 23, 2009

diverse-city-1-23-09_page_1_image_0005Most college students have heard at least excerpts of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered during the famous 1963 March on Washington. But how many can say they’ve felt the spirit of King’s words truly embodied in the actions of modern youths?

As part of the audience for “Celebrating the King Legacy,” Brandeis’s fourth annual memorial for Dr. King this Monday, I not only saw and heard great performances, I witnessed the spectacle of King’s message as it was passed to a new generation.

Sponsors of this event included MLK Scholars and Friends, the Division of Student Affairs, Brandeis Student Union, and the Office of Communications. It was held in the Shapiro Campus Center theater, a venue that could barely accommodate the whole audience, many of whom were seated on the floor.

The culmination of the program’s performances was a reenactment of King’s most heralded speech by Kennett Altidor ’10. Several other students dressed in suits surrounded Altidor, acting as bodyguards. I initially found the sparse pomp and ceremony of the restaging slightly hokey, but the moment Altidor opened his mouth the audience was awed into silence.

Altidor’s deep, sonorous interpretation reverberated throughout the auditorium and brought the meaning of King’s words to life. Reading his speech on a page is no substitute to hearing it delivered with the full force of human energy. And Altidor clearly put an enormous amount of work into perfecting his phrasing and shaping.

Gospel singer, Louise Grasmere, interspersed profoundly emotional spirituals throughout the performance. Her drawn out phrases and dynamic swells imparted on the lyrics a kind of soulful longing. “Fill My Cup” was a highlight, revealing Grasmere’s full range of expression.

Reverend Herman Hamilton gave a rousing speech that served as the centerpiece of the event. He wove the story of Dr. King’s life with his own, ultimately inviting us to “dream again.” Although the shadow of President Obama’s inauguration hung over the entire event, Reverend Hamilton made the link explicit. He evoked the 44th president as the embodiment of Dr. King’s dream.

He reminded us, however, that there is a great deal of work yet to accomplish before we can say that our nation has lived up to Dr. King’s ideals. The reverend challenged us to hear in President Obama’s inauguration speech, “the whispering of God in your ear saying, ‘Get up and do something.’”

Nevertheless, a substantial contingent of the audience was not attending the event to hear lofty rhetoric. I realized this when I sat down and heard a couple of girls around me chattering, “Oh my gosh, America’s Best Dance Crew is going to be here!”

And indeed their excitement proved to be well founded when Status Quo, a dance crew from Boston that had advanced to the finals of MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew,” appeared on stage. The group entertained even skeptics (including yours truly) with its mix of showy acrobatics and stylized hip hop moves. Although it made some effort to incorporate elements of Dr. King’s legacy into its performance, the sketches ended up like a bizarre vaudevillian jumble.

An appearance by the Alpha Phi Alpha step team from Boston University rounded out the performances. Alpha Phi Alpha was the fraternity Dr. King joined at Morehouse College over 60 years ago. The step team’s presentation expressed through coordinated percussive motions the principles of intelligence, brotherhood, and discipline. The steppers also infused comic undertones into the highly ritualized routine.

Overall, students responded with great enthusiasm to the moving presentation. “Well, I’m an MLK Scholar so I came out to support the cause,” said Catherine Bennett ’12, “and it turned out to be amazing.” Some found surprising parallels between Dr. King’s legacy and current events. Ynbal Landesman ’11 explained, “There are many people who said in their lives they thought they would never see a black president. As an Israeli, I hope to see in my lifetime peace in the Middle East [just as America is finally inaugurating its first black president].”

As long as such dreams of peace, harmony, and equality persist, Dr. King’s message will remain relevant. And as long as Brandeis University maintains its commitment to social justice, we will continue to celebrate his values.

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