Memories of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision were palpable throughout the Brandeis community on Monday, as students and local residents participated in community service projects and listened to inspiring words.
After almost five decades since Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, the Brandeis community joined together to assure that his dream has not been forgotten. This year’s Dr. King celebration, themed “Occupying the Dream,” focused on both remembering and preserving the dream.
During a conversation about the Occupy movement, Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams and Protestant Chaplain Alex Kern realized that “Occupying the Dream” would be a relevant theme for this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.
“It was just almost instantaneous—that it came to make perfect sense—considering the Occupy movement is taking place and in many ways it seems that it can be reminiscent of a modern-day version of the sit-ins,” Adams said.
The celebration began with the “Day of Interfaith Service,” as part of President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. This event was sponsored by Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, an interfaith action network founded during Boston’s participation in the civil rights movement. Other sponsors included the Brandeis University Chaplaincy, student groups, and local congregations and community organizations.
The daytime activities included community service projects both off-campus and on-campus. Members of the community were invited to create care packages at Cradles to Crayons, to serve food to the homeless at Community Day Center of Waltham or to participate in other local projects.
Meanwhile, children younger than 12 created prayer flags for Haitian orphans and homeless children in Massachusetts. Participants who stayed on campus were also invited to attend a variety of workshops, including a learning workshop on Dr. King’s teachings on militarism, materialism and racism. Each of these daytime events was specifically engineered to channel Dr. King’s vision into a concrete reality in the community.
The Dr. King Day celebration concluded with Brandeis’s Seventh Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was founded by Jamele Adams the year he arrived at Brandeis. Prior to Adams’ arrival, the previous associate dean of Undergraduate Affairs, Michele Rosenthal, would gather students in a recitation of the “I have a dream speech.” Wishing to continue the tradition, Adams began a memorial service that has since grown in its varieties of events and participants. Because Brandeis is an institution that focuses heavily on social change, this type of memorial is indeed a fitting event to include in the university’s celebration of Dr. King’s contributions.
“We continue this energy that surrounds social justice by memorializing someone who was basically the poster child for social justice and being a social change agent,” Adams said.
David Wheaton ’15 played slow jazz on his saxophone as the audience shuffled into Levin Ballroom for the memorial service. The event then began with a pseudo-conversation between Mahatmas Gandhi, played by Usman Hameedi ’12, and Dr. King, played by Jamele Adams.
“Both Usman and Dean Adams … are synced by far more than just growing up in the Big Apple. They are linked by a commitment to spread social justice through poetry. With that said, I was not surprised to see that these talented poets took the stage to create a present-day dialogue between Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.] and Mohandas Gandhi,” said MLK and Friends member and slam poet Amanda Dryer ’13.
A variety of poets, singers and other performers proceeded to remind the audience to perpetuate Dr. King’s dream. The keynote speaker Reverend Liz Walker, an award-winning television journalist, stressed the importance of taking risks in service of unconditional love of humanity. She told a story that began in 2001, when she had visited South Sudan with Gloria White-Hammond. Outraged by the scene of suffering, they decided to videotape the story. Rev. Walker’s request for a crew was refused even though she was hoping to expose terrorism in Sudan.
After the devastation of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. citizens re-identified those suffering from terrorism as the “other” an themselves as the devastated “us.”
Rev. Walker knew something had to be done as she found herself remembering a certain Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had come to speak in Little Rock, Ark., when Rev. Walker was only six years old. Dr. King had talked about the importance of love as he made a choice between receding back into his comfort zone or taking the ultimate risk. Like Dr. King, Rev. Walker decided that it was also time to take a risk for love and she proceeded to build a school for girls in South Sudan.
“My advice to you: Do something for love. You will not only change yourself, you will change the world,” Rev. Walker instructed the audience.
The memorial service was filled with several standing ovations, cheering and clapping as the audience internalized the words of each performer.
“The greatest feeling that comes from this event is the energy that is emitted from the emotionality of the audience. Every time this event has taken place there’s an emotional journey that the audience takes, and that journey is always unique, it’s always different, it’s always appreciated,” Adams said.
Brandeis’ celebration of Dr. King does not end with the yearly celebration of his life and inspiration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Rather, Brandeis’ MLK and Friends Club helps to ensure that Dr. King’s vision stays alive throughout the entire year. MLK and Friends Club was founded in 2003 by MLK Scholars. During Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the club ran a letter-writing campaign titled “Growing Together in Gratitude.” In this particular community service project, participants were able to send letters to senior citizens and thank them for setting the foundation for social change.
MLK and Friends also usually hosts an event each April commemorating the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968. In past years, MLK and Friends Club hosted art galleries that chronicled Dr. King’s life and accomplishments. They have also held panels and dinners in order to bring the community together to discuss Dr. King’s legacy.
“In a lot of ways MLK and Friends is the legacy of the MLK scholars’ who founded the club, and I, as an MLK scholar, am happy to continue a mission that stresses community and cohesion. In this way we—not only the MLK scholars—but all of our members, collectively, are constantly working to honor Dr. King’s memory and make the community in which we live a better, more conscious place,” said MLK and Friends Club co-president Rasheik Trammell ’13.
Dr. King visited Brandeis on two occasions during the civil rights movement. His contribution to social justice and non-violent social change—which are both major themes at Brandeis—continues today.