Fresh from a long winter break, audience members of a variety of different races, genders, beliefs and backgrounds gathered together in the Colgate Memorial Chapel to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy.
Although the program itself was organized to recognize the achievements of Dr. King, the speeches and poems delivered by faculty, students, community members and visiting groups such as the Def Poets touched not only on King himself but also on recent events pertaining to the Colgate community and the country as a whole. The buzzing sense of excitement and anticipation that was easily observed in the chapel stemmed from the historic inauguration of the first African-American President set to occur the following day, proving that King’s famous dreams continue to become realities.
As the evening’s performers began to take the stage, the speeches and poems honored not only King’s incredible hopes for the nation but also the achievements of a more modern man who has followed in King’s broad footsteps advocating change. From the start of the first performance, President Barack Obama became a central part of the celebratory events, with T-shirts worn throughout the chapel and memorable words such as “Yes We Can” permeating the speech of Colgate University President and Professor of Philosophy and Religion Rebecca S. Chopp. Although King often seemed to take a backseat to the frequent mentions of President Obama’s impending inauguration, the timing of the following day’s historic presidential events proved to be the perfect way to honor and remember the equality and opportunity that Martin Luther King Jr. fought to secure.
In addition to the speeches made by Associate Dean for Diversity and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Studies Jaime Nolan, Director of African Latin Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center Thomas Cruz-Soto, Vice President and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson, Vice President and Dean of Diversity Keenan Grenell and Chopp, the evening’s events also featured two Hamilton Central School students, who performed poetry poignant and moving enough to put college-level writers to shame.
However, Colgate students held their own as the University’s newly established group “Poetically Minded” expressed their thoughts and feelings pertaining to the night’s themes. Although the event proved largely optimistic, with excitement for President Obama’s first term brewing in the crowd, both students and faculty drew attention to the recent hate crimes committed on the campus. They acknowledged that despite the great leaps and bounds the nation has taken against discrimination, the fight against such despicable practices still continues.
One of the highlights of the evening’s affair was the contribution of the Def Poets who used contemporary, powerful and often hilarious performance styles to tackle a diverse range of applicable issues such as race and gender. For first-year student Erika Nyame-Nseke, the Def Poets proved to be both touching and insightful.
“I thought Saul’s rhetoric was amazing.” Nyame-Nseke said, reflecting on Saul Williams’ performance. “It felt like a lecture you could listen to at Colgate and enjoy. They were original, honest and their views are expressions of what people feel.”
Undoubtedly, the events of Monday’s celebration provided an outlet for unique styles of expression, ranging from junior Naledi Semela’s emotion-invoking poetry to Def Poets’ Joe Hernandez-Kolski’s reenactment of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” However different they were in style, each performance proved to honor the ideas and goals of Martin Luther King Jr., both recognizing the achievements we have already seen as a nation and emphasizing the journey we must continue to take in order to fully attain King’s dream.