Although many now consider Martin Luther King, Jr. a political figure, a civil rights leader, and non-violent activist, he was originally and foremost a preacher and minister-a sentiment reflected by The Office of Campus Ministry during its Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Gathering, whose central question of the night asked “Has the Dream Been Realized?”
Speakers at the event included Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar Phillip McHarris, A&S ’13; peace activist Mel King; and Director of African & African diaspora studies program Rhonda Frederick.
The event began with the performance of the black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was first performed in 1900. “This song epitomizes hope during struggle and a refusal to give up even amidst dark times,” said Minister Rashad McPhearson, director of music for the event.
Director of Campus Ministry Rev. Anthony Penna delivered the invocation for the event. Before beginning his prayer, Penna described his own experience of Martin Luther King, Jr., hearing King’s voice broadcast to thousands over speakers on Commonwealth Ave. when King spoke at Marsh Chapel at Boston University.
“I have never forgotten his voice,” Penna said. “Sometimes, when I’m invited to speak, I hear his voice before I get up to speak, thinking, ‘If I could come a quarter of coming towards touching the hearts and minds of people as he could do, I think I’d be alright.'”
Cinique Weekes, A&S ’14 and president of the Black Student Forum, thanked those in attendance for coming out in support of a wonderful occasion before giving his perspective on whether the dream has been realized.
“The accomplishments of this great man need to be recognized,” Weekes said. “The question has been raised, has the dream been realized and pursued? Dr. King’s dream has been realized, but is for us to pursue.”
Matthew Nacier, A&S ’14, then offered his own thoughts on the question, which differed from Weekes’. “More than just racism, Dr. King stood up against injustice everywhere,” he said. “With a long road ahead, Dr. King’s dream still has not been realized. Today as brothers, we are to bring down [the] mountains of poverty, inequality, and discrimination.”
Dom DeLeo, associate director for Career Counseling and Graduate Studies at the BC Career Center, then introduced McHarris as the voice of generation three of the Civil Rights Movement.
McHarris discussed King’s vision of an America in which people from different races interacted with one another harmoniously. He referred to what sociologist Elija Anderson calls “racial canopies”-urban islands of civility among segregated neighborhoods.
“Thus, while many black Americans continue to combat stereotypes, deal with racial profiling, and try to respond productively to micro aggressions within these spaces, there are “racial canopies” throughout America which suggest that a plethora of places in America, today, are indeed post-intentionally racist, as Princeton professor Imani Perry would suggest. So, has Dr. King’s dream been fulfilled?”
McHarris cited the statistic that since 1968, the black upper middle class has quadrupled while at the same time giving the statistic that 35 percent of all black children still live at or beneath the poverty line, a number similar to the time when Dr. King was killed.
“There is obviously no overt racial barrier hindering on the livelihood of African-Americans,” McHarris said. “Historically speaking, inclusion into whiteness was what gave one access to institutional privileges such as the Homestead Act and the G.I. bill. As a result, there has been a sedimentation of both wealth and inequality that has yet to be solved by the programs we have seen to date. In short, race is no longer overt and interpersonal: racial inequality today is largely systemic and institutionalized.”
McHarris also discussed the work of social justice. “We must also remember that social justice work requires a great deal of dedication and does not always yield popularity,” he said. “Doing what’s right requires us to listen to the cries from people at the margin-to listen deeply even if it conflicts with accepted beliefs.”
“Today, to honor Dr. King, let us engage in the work necessary to actualize his dream,” McHarris said in closing.
Jemima Victor, LSOE ’15, then discussed the ways grace is present before singing “Amazing Grace.”
Frederick gave her own take on the day, representing generation two of the Civil Rights Movement. She stated that people of conscience should think and rethink themselves. “Rather than the debate whether the dreams of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were ever realized-they have and they have not-I would like to emphasize and reconnect to something vital in the rhetorical style of his sermons,” she said.
Frederick then recounted some of the social history that came after the March on Washington, including King’s transition from civil rights activism to anti-poverty activism in 1965 during the march from Selma to Montgomery. Frederick focused more on King’s use of language to encourage activism rather than his marching and speechmaking.
Sexual Chocolate, BC’s all-male step group, then gave a lively performance in tribute to King.
Before introducing Mel King, a speaker from generation one of the Civil Rights Movement, Dan Bunch, director of Learning to Live, said that he wanted people to think particularly about how BC has become diverse, with approximately 500 black students on campus-a number that was much smaller before 1967, when Mel King initiated talks with then-University President Rev. Michael Walsh, S.J.
In his speech, King discussed this moment in the University’s history: “One thing that’s important for us all [to remember] is that nobody makes anything happen on their own,” King said. “There were people in the community and on campus who made this happen.”
In the rest of his speech, King focused more broadly on affirming the humanity of others by listening to them. “Love is the only sustainable energy we all share,” he said. “It’s the only sustainable energy that we can all share.”
Students offered up prayers for the oppressed, for peace through justice, and for the interconnectedness of humankind. Rev. Howard McLendon encouraged those in the audience to attend the reception after the event and to meet at least two new people in the spirit of the day.
Participants then joined hands and sang the anthem of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome.” The event concluded with Rev. Michael Davidson, S.J. delivering the benediction, which focused on honoring the memory of King.