On Monday evening, Jan. 19, members of the Brandeis community gathered in the fully packed Shapiro Campus Center Theater for the school’s 10th annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The event was co-hosted by Dean of Students Jamele Adams and Rabbi Elyse Winick ’86, and was also sponsored by the Dean of Students Office and the MLK Scholars and Friends Club. The event included various performances as well as a keynote address from Dr. Roy DeBerry ’70, an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement.
The event opened with Adams reading a list of names of all the African Americans killed in the last year through acts of violent brutality. Eric Garner and Michael Brown were two names recited, both of whom were killed over the summer and have received attention in the news posthumously in regard to the grand jury hearings surrounding their cases.
Adams then performed two poems that he wrote, one titled “New Negro Nursery Rhyme for Black Boys.” He recited, “Hands up, don’t shoot, is what we say; I can’t breathe, don’t kill me that way.”
Adams went on to say that the night was about engaging with one another as a family. He mentioned that whatever reaction it was, whether it be to laugh, cry, smile or be silent, those are the reactions that members of the audience should have. He then introduced Winick, who spoke briefly about King’s friendship with Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent rabbi, theologian and philosopher who was an active Civil Rights leader marching right beside King from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March of 1965. Winick said that when King sat in the Birmingham jail, Heschel sent him a telegram which read, “My deep identification with the goals you pursue. May your leadership be an inspiration for all of America.”
Professor Chad Williams, chair of the African and Afro-American Studies Department, also spoke briefly about Brandeis’ role in reclaiming King’s legacy.
“So Brandeis, we have a lot of work to do … I believe if Martin Luther King were alive today, he would be on the front lines with all of us who proclaim that black lives matter,” Williams said. “Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed radical freedom dreams, and it’s up to all of us to make those dreams a reality.”
The event featured performances from gospel singer Louise Grasmere of students and enrollment, Sean Fielder and the Boston Tap Company, Kaos Kids and the So Unique! step team. There were also readings by students Wilkins Lugo ’17, D’Andre Young ’15, Cameron Mendes-Moreau ’15, Naman Patel ’16, Leah Staffin ’15 and Makalani Mack ’16. Two of these students performed MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963 and his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech from 1964.
The last part of the event featured DeBerry’s keynote address to the audience. DeBerry is the executive director and one of the founders of the Hill Country Project, a non-profit dedicated to recording the stories of the residents of Benton County, Mississippi, “who have lived through the modern Civil Rights Movement and beyond and provide education support to the local school district.” DeBerry, a native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, participated in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s first as a Freedom School student and then as a general organizer. DeBerry shared stories about being a student in the early 1970s, at a time when a very small portion of the students were of color, he noted.
He acknowledged that today, “freedom is not free,” but he believes that today’s generation is a promising one. He said that he is hopeful that one day, violent acts of racism will be eradicated, and that hope, he believes, is realizable somewhere in the foreseeable future.
The events celebrating the life and legacy of King continued throughout the week, including a free screening for the Brandeis community of “Selma” and a panel discussion about the film on Thursday evening featuring President Fred Lawrence, Professor Thomas Doherty (AMST), Professor Jasmine Johnson, (AAAS & WGS), Professor Daniel Kryder (POL) and Williams.