Together, members of the Boston College community swayed and sang “We Shall Overcome” in Gasson 100. At the head of the room stood Samara Foster, Co-President of the Black Student Forum (BSF), with her head down, hand-in-hand with other student leaders and a puddle of tears at her feet.
“In that very moment, I felt collective support and care from the small fraction of the BC community,” said Foster. “They were tears of sadness for Yvette Smith, Michael Brown, Nizah Morris and many other unarmed victims of police killings, as well as tears of joy. Joy because as we were linked by the holding of hands as we sang "We Shall Overcome," the words were not just words to be sung, but they were words instilled with faith and hope that can and will be manifested.”
The annual Boston College Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Gathering, titled this year “Wade in the Water,” was held on Monday with a crowd that was over capacity. “I was worried about attendance,” said Gaetan Civil ‘15, Senior Advisor for BSF and a member of the advisory board for the event. “I was surprised that it was a packed house. People up on the balcony, by the doors, standing on the sides, from 7:30 p.m. to the end of the event.”
Before the event began, students, faculty and administration marched from McElroy Commons to Gasson Hall led by members of the advisory board. “It generated a great crowd from all aspects of the university community,” said James Kale II ‘16, chairman of the advisory board. “We sang, chanted, marched and captured the attention and hearts of many as we journeyed from McElroy to Gasson.”
The march participants gathered with the rest of the congregation in Gasson 100 and the gathering began with a dance performance by the Spirit and Truth Dance Ministry of the Jubilee Christian Church. The three female dancers pounded on the floor and used light blue tapestry to illustrate the emotion behind the song “Wade in the Water.”
Following the dance performance, the Voices of Freedom, a united choir composed of members of Against the Current, BEATS (The Black Experience in America Through Song), The Liturgy Arts Group and The Voices of Imani sang their own version of Wade in the Water. The packed audience in Gasson 100 clapped to the beat of the song, engaging in the soul and energy resonating from the choir. It set the tone for the rest of the night.
Later on in the night, Fr. Jack Butler, Vice President of the Division of University Mission & Ministry greeted the audience with a story about when Martin Luther King Sr., or Daddy King as Fr. Jack called him, visited Fr. Jack in high school. King Sr. addressed Fr. Jack’s high school about being uncomfortable and that if people were uncomfortable, that was good. Butler connected this to the present day where people are uncomfortable to talk about race and address the issue.
“It’s rare that you hear someone from administration speak so powerfully on a touchy subject,” said Civil. “For him to stand there as a white man from the South, it was very powerful and I appreciated that.”
Powerful speaking continued with Patience Marks, the 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship recipient, who instead of giving a speech chose to engage with a spoken word piece titled “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”
“We’re in a joint custody battle over the right to live
Except we’re not given any right to live
Living in a world where cemeteries are becoming the new nurseries
Picking out more tombstones when we’re doing baby names
But you’re telling me black lives only matter when time to entertain.”
Marks received a standing ovation for her piece. “I was truly grateful to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Dr. King with all of my fellow peers, teachers, administrators, faculty and friends,” said Marks. “The program allowed me to self-reflect and think about my next steps in making the changes I want to see and how to do that in solidarity with those around me.”
Marks’ wasn’t the only spoken word piece the crowd received as spoken word artists Daniel DeLeon ’15, Ashlie Pruitt ’15 and Mashaunda McBarnett ’16, known collectively as The Soul-Type Poets delivered a powerful piece. “It was rush, adrenaline pumping the whole time,” said DeLeon. “It’s one of those events where messing up is not an option. In light of everything that’s been happening around the country, that piece was the initiation of healing.” Similar to Marks, the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
The keynote speaker, or “Voice of Faith” for the evening was The Reverend Brandon Crowley, pastor at Myrtle Baptist Church in Newton and a doctorate student at Boston University. With rhythm and articulation, Crowley spoke about today’s society dealing with social issues and argued if society followed King’s thesis of the beloved community, we can deal with these issues.
Crowley spoke of an encounter he had where he saw four children playing jump rope. “One was White. One was Black. One was Asian. One was Latina,” said Crowley. He told the congregation that while these children were different, they played jump rope equally, taking turns swinging the jump rope, making sure they swung the jump rope as fair as they could and picking up someone who tripped on the rope. Crowley connected this to the systems in the United States and how they don’t do what these children do.
Sexual Chocolate also made an appearance at the gathering and delivered a ground-shaking routine and challenged the audience to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy with action and not taking the day off. “We wanted to make that whole performance powerful,” said Michael Felix ’15, President of Sexual Chocolate. "With everything in mind, it brought out a lot in us.”
The gathering concluded with student leaders on campus reading a petition in memory of Dr. King and the entire congregation joining hands to sing “We Shall Overcome.”
“I truly felt that we were coming together as a BC community and I am incredibly motivated to continue fighting against institutional racism and having dialogue on race issues,” said Sean O’Sullivan ’15, Co-Director of FACES.
“Students of color have been having difficulty on this campus for a very long time,” said Kale II talking about what’s next following the gathering. “But we were finally given an extra platform due to the occurring events taking place in the streets around the Heights.” For Civil, attendees of the event must continue the conversation. “I think there needs to be more acts of healing between administrators and students of color with what is going on in the nation. How does that look? More conversation, so they can voice their concerns and thoughts are turned into action by administrators that students can witness.”
For Foster, the gathering was a symbolism of whose feet will those steps at the head of the movement. “We spent the evening paying reverence to Dr. King and his fight for social and economic justice right before and collectively acknowledged that the fight for justice did not end with Dr. King,” said Foster.
“This year’s MLK Gathering ceremony was a true testament that this is the movement of the people and we are the leaders we've been searching for.”