By Dominique Jones
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a polarizing figure in the African-American community. He’s someone that everyone learns about, and an archetype that is often used to frame black intellect, religion, and politics. So, when I learned of all of the celebratory events around MLK Day at Berklee, I expected the same old routine. People would quote and make reference to his “I Have A Dream” speech, the March on Washington, his untimely death, and that’s it. My expectation was that it would be generic, and therefore, boring.
What happened instead was one of the most unapologetic celebrations of blackness that I have ever witnessed in an educational setting.
I was in awe when the entire, diverse audience stood to honor the singing of the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice,” performed beautifully by a group of students. Following was a spoken-word piece, shared by Jonathan Mendoza and illustrated through dance by Boston Conservatory student dancer Michael Morris Jr. This piece, titled “An Unapologetic Celebration of the Self,” was vital to the authenticity of the night for me. As black bodies in America are under attack through police brutality, the young man dancing illustrated the life and light that we, as members of this society hold, physically and intellectually.
I was also very pleased to witness the premiere of The Glory Project video. This video, which took over 1,500 man-hours to complete, comprised students from varying backgrounds, of different ages, and from countries all over the world. They all concentrated their creativity to cover the Oscar–Award-winning song from the movie Selma, and with the belief that meaningful change can happen and racism can be overcome through solidarity and alliance with one another. These are the uncomfortable but necessary conversations that Dr. King was brave enough to have in front of the world. In our Berklee community, we must show that same fortitude.
Finally, Ledisi took the stage, starting with her hit song “Alright.”
This brought the room further into happy spirits, before she launched into iconic gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s “Precious Lord.” A hush fell over the room, and I felt transported to the difficult time when this song was first performed. This song resonates deeply with me, as I believe it takes faith—in something—to traverse the great obstacles of humanity. It is a soul-stirring song, which Ledisi performed brilliantly, but she left us with a call to action. In her final song, she riffed, “Get up!” asking the audience to respond with “Raise up!” This is what we must do in times of turmoil. We must allow the best of ourselves to emerge at the forefront. In the words of Dr. King, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Dominique Jones is a second-semester voice principal from Oakland, California. An International Songwriting Competition winner in 2014, Dom released her first album, Wingspan, the same year. In addition to writing for the Berklee Groove, Jones is currently a spring fellow for Forbes 30 under 30 recognized publication, Blavity. More about her work in music, media, and journalism can be found at iamdomjones.com.