On Jan. 8, 1969, 70 impassioned African-American students seized control of the university’s Ford Hall. In an effort to obtain more recognition from the administration, the group of students occupied Ford Hall for 11 days. It was through their resilience and resistance against the racial tides of their time that the 10 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarships were created as part of their demands for creating a more socially conscious institution.
Although Ford Hall no longer stands, replaced by the Shapiro Campus Center, what remains today is an outstanding legacy to the very words and vision of Dr. King that Brandeis students continue to uphold. In this sense, it is appropriate that the annual MLK Memorial Program should take place in the very spot that Ford Hall stood nearly 44 years later.
Presented in Shapiro Campus Center Theater and in collaboration with the African and Afro-American Studies Department, Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams and Brandeis’ MLK and Friends Club, the memorial service marks the ninth year of this celebratory tradition of Dr. King’s life and work.
Titled “For A Love of A Dream,” a namesake alluding to King’s monumental 1963 speech, the memorial program brought together many talents and notable speakers to honor the legacy of Dr. King.
“The Brandeis University MLK Memorial began as an event to complement the annual community reading of Dr. King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech as conducted by Michelle Rosenthal,” described Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams. “The MLK Memorial is designed to be an artistic memorialization of Dr. King, inclusion and love. The event is what it feels like because of all the people in the space. If we all feel moved in the same room, we will naturally move each other in my opinion. Hopefully, we all feel connected to each other a little bit more by the close of the evening,” said Adam in an interview after the show.
Indeed, beautifully embodying the title of “For A Love of A Dream,” the idea of love was resounding through the entirety of the program from the presenters that night.
The program began with opening remarks by Adams, who has hosted the show in previous years. Delivering a slam poetry piece, Adams used his words to bring up the stark reality that we still have work to do in order to attain the more tolerant nation that King gave his life to create. In writing the piece, Adams said that he tapped into all he has “read and been exposed to regarding sacrifices made by Dr. King to simply speak about one in particular of his many dreams; and taking that and applying it to today and attempting to pose and answer the question “For the Love of A Dream?””
Adams also asked the audience to stand up for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” to which many students sang along. From this, a palpable feeling of comfort and community unified the Shapiro Campus Center Theater.
Adams then introduced the host of the night, passing the torch to Professor Chad Williams (AAAS). Williams, recently named chairman of African and Afro-American Studies to Faith Smith, hosted the show. Williams’ friendly and open demeanor not only provided high energy and much hype throughout the show, but also demonstrated his passion for African and African-American studies.
The Boston Tap Company, an audience favorite who also appeared last year, took the stage next and performed to much applause from students. Showcasing their intricate and percussive style, the Boston Tap Company synchronized their rhythm to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” to the delight of the audience.
The dancers of Boston Tap Company are always excellent, but perhaps most notable about the performance was when the group’s director, Sam Fielder, went on stage after the performance and thanked everyone in the audience who coordinated the event for inviting their group to share their talent and passion for dance. Fielder even compared Adams to MLK, as other speakers did throughout the night, referring to Adams’ ability to engage others in acts of kindness and equality.
Current MLK Scholars at Brandeis spoke about the Brandeis Bridges program. Amaris Brown ’15 discussed the scholars’ recent experiences traveling to Israel. Over the winter break, five MLK scholars and five Jewish students went to Israel to learn about Jewish culture and religion. Brown emphasized how much they learned from each other and have come to appreciate each other as friends. The students planned their events and fundraised the entire cost of their program themselves, including flight costs. The next chapter is making a trip to Ghana or West Africa to continue the bridge making between people and culture.
The program also featured beautiful musical renditions by Makalani Mack ’16 and Jane Sapp. Mack ’16 channeled the smooth vibes of Sam Cooke by giving a touching performance of “A Change is Gonna Come.” Sapp, who was also one of the keynote speakers along with her husband Hubert Sapp, shared her gospel music tradition of the American south. Playing on the piano while also singing, Sapp heralded the young people in the audience to be unyielding to their passion and dreams.
Bronte Velez ’16 also delivered very powerful poetry that night. In writing her poem, Velez explored and reflected on what blackness means in this country, saying she felt “confined to social constructs of what blackness is and must look like” and found inspiration in Angela Davis’ words. She said, “Angela Davis writing, ‘Radical simply means grasping things at the root’ refers to the idea that being ‘radical’ is just a return to original truth. There’s nothing ridiculous about being radical. Nothing about it is crazy like the connotations of the word hold. Love is then ‘radical’ only because it is the origin of freedom.”
Toward the end of the program, Jermaine Hamilton ’14 delivered King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. With incredible diction, conviction and sense of emergency, Hamilton brought the historic words of Dr. King alive as if King himself were behind the podium.
The program was an undoubtedly a powerful evening of love and community, in dreams and realities. Though the dreams described by King are still not fully realized, it was inspiring to see members of the Brandeis community like Velez, Mack, Hamilton, Williams and Adams celebrating and living up to Dr. King’s dream in their own individual ways.