Elizabethtown College honored the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a week-long celebration that began Monday, Jan. 16 and continued through Saturday, Jan. 21. Throughout the week, the Office of Diversity, headed by the Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Monica Smith, hosted a variety of events across campus, exploring this year’s themes of empowerment, advocacy and peacemaking—elements that were crucial to King’s dream of equality.
Wednesday, Jan. 18, a small crowd of students and faculty members filled the KAV to experience a live, multimedia performance entitled “King’s Dream,” which was brought to life by the Philadelphia-based company Key Arts Productions. First-year Moh Mohammad was selected to introduce the performance by David Stewart, Associate Director of Admissions.
“I have repeatedly shared my personal interest in being part of the MLK week celebration on Elizabethtown College,” Mohammad said. “It was a way to remind myself how thankful I should be not only to King, but also to the many nameless individuals that sacrificed their personal comfort for me and other blacks to have a dream that tomorrow is going to be a better day than yesterday.”
Through the integration of music, film footage and narration, the audience was provided with a tribute to the historical roots and social implications that led to the American civil rights movement and the era of social unrest in the 1960s.
“I really enjoyed this presentation because it was basically a crash course on King’s life with intermittent musical performances,” junior Nina Cicero stated in regards to her takeaways from the production. “The performers were all incredibly talented.”
“King’s Dream” incorporated a mixture of gospel music and influential songs from the ‘60s that challenged America’s social consciousness, including Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” These songs were performed live by Joe Patterson, the President and Artistic Director of Key Arts Productions, and two accompanying singers, who asked audience members to participate in the delivery of these songs by clapping their hands, stomping their feet and singing along.
“The most meaningful part of the presentation was at the end when the audience was invited to stand up, hold hands with each other and sway to their music,” Cicero said. “It was definitely a little awkward at first, but it was still really cool to see the audience joining together in unity.”
Junior Kelly Knorr was also moved by the sense of community that could be felt throughout the room during “King’s Dream.”
“The performance was powerful and my friends and I were so happy we attended,” Knorr said. “The singers had voices unlike any I had ever heard before, so I would definitely suggest inviting these performers back to campus again.”
Key Arts Productions debuted its first educational program in 1997, blending thought-provoking social commentary, video footage and live musical performance together to create widely acclaimed diversity programming. Every year, the company tours the country, bringing a variety of productions such as “HerStory,” “Let Freedom Sing” and “Harlem Grooves” to schools, universities and fine arts centers. Each individual production focuses on the legacy of advocacy, activism and progressive change that is apparent throughout American history and provides motivation to people of all ages to become informed leaders in social justice and reform.
The “King’s Dream” production specifically highlights a variety of King’s peaceful approaches to social justice and equal rights, including sit-ins, marches and non-violent protests. His leadership in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, his participation in the Memphis sanitation worker strike in 1968 and his dedication to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are just a few of the countless contributions that King made to the advancement of social change during the civil rights movement.
“King was someone who brought together people who didn’t feel like they had a voice on their own,” Knorr said. “His words of wisdom resonated with people from many diverse backgrounds.”
The performance also touches upon some of the most memorable happenings of the peaceful civil rights revolution, including the contributions of the Arkansas Nine, the Freedom Fighters and Rosa Parks.
“Although Dr. King was the key figure in the march for civil equality, there have been many faceless individuals that have marched and fought,” Mohammad said. “By celebrating Dr. King’s legacy, we remind ourselves that the fight will always continue as many injustices still remain in our society, especially in the current political climate.”
From video clips of the March on Washington and King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech to images of young men and women taking action to ensure that their voices were heard, “King’s Dream” seeks to educate, to engage and to inspire today’s generation to stand up for their rights.
“It’s important for us to celebrate King’s life because the civil rights movement is still incredibly relevant today,” Cicero said. “King’s nonviolent protests continue to serve as models for present day movements.”
From the Black Lives Matter movement to the Women’s March on Washington D.C. that occurred this past weekend, today’s activists and reformers continue to channel the passion that King and other civil right leaders instilled in their followers over 50 years ago.
“I think it is very important to spend time learning about and celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement,” Knorr said. “No matter how much time goes by, King remains an influential figure who people model their own actions after.”
Thanks to the production of “King’s Dream”, the entire campus community of students, faculty and administration alike was able to join together in a beautiful celebration of diversity, unity and peace.