Students, faculty gather in celebration of Mandela, King Jr.

The Office of the President, the University Chaplaincy and the Africana Center celebrated the lives or Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela in a commemorative event at Goddard Chapel last Thursday.

The ceremony, entitled “The Road to Freedom and Justice: Celebrating the Lives and Legacies of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela,” was part of the school’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, which is traditionally held at the start of the spring semester. This year, the focus of the ceremony was expanded to honor the life and achievements of South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who passed away at age 95 on Dec. 5.

The event featured speeches from university officials and student performances that included a cappella concerts, spoken word pieces and a dance routine.

University Chaplain Rev. Gregory McGonigle began with an introductory statement about both men’s profound influence in the struggle for world peace.

“Rev. King and Nelson Mandela were many things to many people,” McGonigle said. “They were visionaries, social justice leaders, commanders and educators. We must recommit ourselves to their vision.”

McGonigle then introduced University President Anthony Monaco and University Provost David Harris, who further discussed King Jr. and Mandela’s legacies and thanked the Africana Center for hosting this memorial ceremony.

“It is always a privilege to be sponsoring this important and meaningful event, and I always find it inspiring,” Monaco said. “I think this year is especially important in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death at the end of last year, and I think it is important to stay true to the pursuit of justice, not just in this country, but in the world … I think Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela will continue to inspire the world, and I’m excited today to be honoring their lives and continuing their legacies.”

Harris also praised the lives and achievements of King Jr. and Mandela, but emphasized that there remains much work to be done in order to fulfill their visions of ending poverty and racial strife. He challenged Tufts students to do their part in implementing those important goals.

“If Martin Luther King were still alive, he might be surprised by how much progress we have made,” Harris said. “But there’s another part, which I’m sure you’re all still aware of — we’ve still got a long way to go.”

The portion of the event that included the student performances began with an introduction from Africana Center Director Katrina Moore, who thanked the student performers for sharing their work.

“We have a lot of budding poets on campus,” Moore said. “I encourage you to open your hearts and minds and really just listen to these extraordinary performers.”

The remainder of the ceremony was divided into three parts: “History,” “Legacy” and “Future.” During each section, students delivered a quotation from both King Jr. and Mandela, while explaining its historical relevance. Afterward, students performed a spoken word poem and explained how it had been inspired by the quotation.

During the “Future” portion of the ceremony, freshman Kristiana Jordan recited a portion of King Jr.’s celebrated 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, in which King Jr. remarked that he and his followers had only reached the beginning of their fight for civil rights, not the end. Sophomore Cameron Flowers followed with a spoken word piece about the current racial divides in his hometown of Chicago, which he said was inspired by the same famous address.

A number of student musical numbers were also featured in the program, including a piano piece by senior Nakami Tongrit-Green entitled “A Medley of Spirits,” an a cappella performance by Essence and a musical interlude by the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College. Later, Junior Chelsea Hicks and sophomore Chi-Chi Osuagwu performed a liturgical dance to the South African gospel song, “Umbhedesho.”

“[We] were gathered here for one purpose: to commemorate two men who made such a difference in all our lives and who will continue to make a difference in the world because of what they did,” Hicks said after the event. “It was really amazing.”

Toward the end of the event, Denise Phillips, coordinator of programs and special projects at the Africana Center, recited a quotation from John F. Kennedy:

“So, let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”

The ceremony concluded with a candlelight vigil, a moment of silence and a performance of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” by the Kuumba Singers.