By Lam Ho
Thanks to the work of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day committee, African American Alliance, and the artists of Sewanee, the University brought the community together in celebration of the life and work of the legendary Dr. King. The MLK committee included Dean W. Marichal Gentry, Dean Deborah Jackson (School of Theology), Eric V. Benjamin, Barbara Banks, Charles Whitmer and Connie Kelley from the Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace, and Kay Brown (with consultation from students).
100 Men in Black visited campus for a concert on Sunday, January 17. They agreed to perform the National Anthem at the Saturday basketball game against Centre College before their main acts: the community sing-along and their formal concert in Guerry Auditorium.
Gentry says, “I sang in a church choir in Durham, North Carolina, with Mr. West, who was the director. I have known him since 1994. I have brought Mr. West and his groups (Orange Grove Gospel Choir and 100 Men in Black) to other colleges and universities I’ve worked. We’ve developed a very close friendship. The committee will meet to process the weekend and will begin discussing who we’ll invite to campus next year. I also believe in the mission of the 100 Men in Black and the work they are doing in the community.”
Although less than sixty of the singers were able to travel to the Mountain, those who visited enjoyed their time at the Sewanee Inn and performed with poise at the Sunday concert. One of the mothers helping sell merchandise in the Guerry lobby explained how much her sons value the experience of singing with the choir. “They need father figures in their lives,” she said, “and my boys have learned so much from that.” At the end of the concert, audience members from the University and from Winchester flooded out the doors and shook hands with the singers. The warm smiles of the performers only added to the spiritual nature of their presence and performance. On the following Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the committee put together a night of acts by Sewanee Praise, dancers Crystal Brown-Thompson (C’18) and Joey Adams (C’18), and poet Kirk Murphy (C’17), whose poem, “Dear Mr. King: Just Another Nigga’s Story,” was a crowd favorite. The powerful and impeccably delivered work earned Murphy a standing ovation from every person in the room.
Brandon Iracks-Edelin (C’18), the president of AAA, says, “As the emcee of the MLK program, I felt very anxious about delivering my remarks until I finally started speaking to everyone in the room. At this moment, I realized that these people can be the change that they want to see. This program was nice (change word) because it involved the University and the community coming together to acknowledge hardships of those before us. There should be more events involving both groups because it brings us together. I look forward to seeing what will happen next. Changes don’t just happen overnight; in fact, a series of events leads to change. The world is not a perfect place and neither is Sewanee, but we can contribute to positive and necessary change through our actions.”
Claire Brickson (C’18) says, “This event was so relevant to the whole of the Sewanee community, and I don’t understand why the administration scheduled formal house visits on the same night. This forced Greek students (and prospective pledges) to make a ‘choice’ between a required Greek event and a much needed opportunity for celebrating diversity. As Greek organizations around the country struggle with racial equality and acceptance, we want to pretend, as always, that ‘Sewanee is doing better.’ However, as the administration has shown time and time again – they’re not willing to make the commitments necessary for EQB to be an honest statement.”
Gentry adds, “I particularly enjoyed the ‘We Have a Dream’ segment near the end of the program, where a representative from each dinner table stood to recite the dream their table discussed. What was special to me about this past weekend was that it took many people to come together to pull it off. Everyone worked with purpose and dedication and worked to ensure that all events ran as smoothly as possible. It truly was a team event. We also learned how we can improve it for next year.”