The university held multiple events in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17. The university had two programs celebrating Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. including the 12th Annual MLK Interfaith Day of Service and the 16th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The Interfaith Day of Service honored the life of King through discussions of social justice as well as collaboration and advocacy for projects, according to the event page. The 12th annual program centered around building a beloved community.
To achieve this the event proposed “building beloved community through qualitative and quantitative change.” Attendees of the event participated in social justice workshops as well as connected to service organizations in the great Waltham community, according to the event page.
The 16th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was composed of performances, poetry and speeches honoring the legacy of King. The keynote speaker of the event was Pastor David M. Fryson, Esq, Interim Vice President for Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer.
Fryson spoke about how relationships are everything, and it is because of this that he tries to value each individual he meets, though he admits he sometimes misses the mark. Fryson also spoke of the work done by Sonali Anderson ’22 and Deborah Ault ’22 in creating the Black Action Plan—a student-led document citing change needed on campus. Fryson said that their work created a plan which laid out what, “was necessary for Brandies to be a welcoming and inclusive institution.”
Napoleon Lherrison ’11, the Vice President of the Brandeis Alumni Board of Directors, welcomed community members to the event, stating that at the university, “hate has no home here.”
Gary “Sundance” Clay ’80 gave shared a poem called “The Kosher Line.” In the poem, Clay discussed the ability to utilize the Kosher section of a dining hall, despite not being in the stereotypical demographic of who would use the Kosher section. In the poem, Clay read, “I learned so much at lunchtime about religion, food and race. People are unique yet really all the same.”
Clay also read another poem which he wrote related to Martin Luther King, Clay told the group that while he was not a poet he did enjoy writing rhythmically. The poem was called “Shut Up and Dribble. You Can’t Kill My Dream.”
- Lynn Whitfield, ’77, was an alumni speaker at the event. Whitfield said that when she first got to Brandeis, she had no idea who she was or what she wanted to do with her life. At Brandeis, Whitfield explains, she started getting her education in activism, though she already knew about civil rights, since she was “growing up in it.” Whitfield explained that she had been aware of the civil rights movement with protests happening by her suburban Cleveland residence and she listened to the words of King on the radio and on television. Whitfield even made the comparison to Lucrecia’s father when she had found out the news of King’s death. Still, the biggest impact Brandeis had on Whitfield was from the 76th commencement address of late congresswoman and civil rights activist Barbara Jordan, who asked the students “where are your voices?”
“I was nurtured on a campus of students who were willing to speak up and take action,” Whitfield explained.
There were also performances by Manginah—a Brandeis acapella group—who sang an Israeli folk song that translates in English to “Our Path.” The song discusses how community and help from others allows us to overcome even the most difficult challenges. There was another performance by Chelsea Green—an instrumentalist, vocalist and an associate professor at Berkeley College—with the Green Project. Green performed on the violin a song by Marvin Gaye called “What’s Going On.”
The university’s memorial to King was just two days after the attack at a Texas synagogue, in an email sent by President Ron Liebowitz he commented that there is a “sharp contrast” between the event in Texas and the nonviolent pursuit of justice King dedicated his life towards. Liebowitz encouraged students to live by King’s example and embrace his words including a quote from King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Both events were held online, due to current COVID-19 policies on campus. The memorial was co-sponsored by the Dean of Students Office, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Alumni Association, Alumni of Color Network and the Intercultural Center, according to the event page. The interfaith day of service was sponsored by the Brandeis University Department of Community Service, according to a Facebook post.