Lift Every Voice and Sing: MLK Jr. Day in Middletown

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Prof. Lois Brown, Chair of Wesleyan’s AfAm Department, delivers the keynote speech

Today—January 19, 2015—I went to Saving Our Sons and Daughters Through Education, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Committee of Greater Middletown’s Annual Celebration. A fundraiser for their scholarship fund, the celebration was a medley of meditations on education, Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of education, and what it means to be Black both in Middletown, CT and in the United States of America. Hosted in the First Church of Christ on Court Street, the ceremony featured many community members: dancers from the Cross Street AME Zion Church (the one behind Long Lane Farm); the youth choir from AME Zion; committee members of the MLK Scholarship; local politicians; and Wesleyan’s very own Professor Lois Brown, who gave the keynote address. There were two moving poems—one in particular by I’Keem McDaniel called “Mirrors,” encouraging self-reflection and betterment. I found the ceremony to be a wonderful mix of young and old voices—which I think drew the entire audience’s attention to questions of inter-generational interaction and education. What do we stand to learn? And why is it so important to think of education when we think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy?

As I hurdle full-speed-ahead style into my last semester here at Wes, the significance of my education has become an even heavier question. And while I don’t have a neat and tight truism to assuage my own doubts—let alone those of anyone else—I did find a lot of comfort in the words of Yalonda Hart, the president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Committee; Professor Lois Brown; and Grady Faulkner, a Common Council member of Middletown. All three emphasized the importance of education—and the ways in which one must implement what one has learned later in life.

“Move forward with your degree,” Yalonda Hart encouraged us. Don’t let it collect dust in your living room, but use your education to make a difference in your own community. Likewise, Professor Brown described education as a crucial choice—a potential pivot away from a disappointing past to a more fruitful, productive future. Professor Brown quoted Martin Luther King Jr. during her keynote address, reminding us that he said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” It’s about moving forward, even when beset by obstacles or tragedy. She urged us to, “pursue education in all places, at all times… education that is true.”

I enjoyed how the ceremony framed the question of education—one that is positive, forward-looking, and inherently brings forth change. On the heels of so much violence in this country, especially violence toward Black bodies, it is invigorating to think of ways in which we can make our communities better. Let’s use our voices not to lampoon others but to lift up those ideas we find worthwhile, refreshing, and overall terrific. We could use our anger to make our arguments more complex: deeper, broader, and louder. Our education at Wesleyan endows us with a lot of privilege, yes, so we should use that opportunity to a good end.

If you wish to make a contribution to the scholarship fund, donations may be mailed to: MLK, Jr. Scholarship Committee, P.O. Box 282, Middletown, CT 06457.