Denison University’s Martin Luther King Celebration

By Resident Susan Richardson —

One of the great advantages to living in Kendal at Granville is that right next door is Denison University with its rich array of events, classes, concerts, plays and athletic contests, all at the disposal of Kendal residents. Most events are free to the public; the few that charge admission, like the renowned Vail Series that brings extraordinary individuals and groups with international reputations to campus, have a modest cost. An important Denison event in January that welcomes public attendance is the annual Martin Luther King Celebration. The schedule generally includes a convocation with a keynote speaker, followed by breakout workshops on various relevant topics at numerous locations on campus.

This year’s MLK Day enjoyed the brilliant planning and hard work that is regularly devoted to the daylong celebration. Before the main speaker, a troop of 10 racially mixed dancers created movement derived from spoken word pieces, including the voices of Martin Luther King and a Denison student, Tope Sholola. The IDM Hip-Hop Dance Crew were dressed in the cotton shirts and cotton dresses of yesteryear, and their own choreographed and beautifully coordinated movement designed “to inspire liberation” reached out and captured the audience attention.

Following the dance, the Denison University Wind Ensemble played “Of Our New Day,” a 2016 piece by Omar Thomas, based on the Black National Anthem—“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by James Weldon Johnson—written to honor the victims of the June 17, 2015, attack on Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The ambitious and rousing piece was played expertly and movingly by the Denison students and faculty under the direction of Professor Chris David Westover.

The high quality of the student contributions prepared well for the introduction of the eminent Civil Rights figure, Mary F. Berry, currently Professor of American Social Thought and History at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Berry is respected and celebrated for her decades-long, indefatigable work in civil liberties and her focus on rights for women, for African-Americans, for the LGBTQ community, for persons with disabilities. She has written numerous books on history and racism; her latest book is History Teaches Us to Resist.

Professor Berry’s speech inspired, amused and educated the audience, and she provided us with some personal anecdotes about her friendship and collaboration with Martin Luther King and Coretta King. Announcing at the beginning that she preferred speaking ad hoc rather than reading her planned speech, she alternately related bits of history and exhorted us to take part in our democracy. She emphasized that we should not be primarily concerned with “faces” but with “policies.” Don’t waste energy taking shots at persons, but work hard for good government. Professor Berry also noted that It is fine to have good and tolerant attitudes, but action must follow. “Vote!” she encouraged her audience.

Kendal was well represented at the event. The Kendal bus transported a good number of people, while others drove their own cars. That night at Kendal, there was considerable discussion about the components of the event over the evening’s dinner.

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