On January 19, members of the Boston College community gathered in Gasson Hall to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work through a multi-medium celebration, loosely based on a Baptist worship service. The event, held annually on MLK Day, is a chance for the community to come together in the memory of Dr. King and remind ourselves of what we are called to do to confront racism as young people and people of faith.
This year, the event was of particular significance in light of the year’s events in Ferguson, Staten Island, and around the country, and because it marked the 50th anniversary of the Selma,
Alabama march led by Dr. King. The large number of the people, who overflowed out of Gasson 100 into the hallways, added even more energy to an already exciting and emotional evening, filled with
song, dance, and inspiring words.
The music was provided by the “Voices of Freedom,” a collaboration of student groups Against the Current, BEATS, The Liturgy Arts Group, and Voices of Imani. These groups also collaborated with the Spirit and Truth Dance Ministry, who accompanied their voices with worship dance. Sexual Chocolate also performed a tribute to Dr. King.
The evening began with a passionate performance of “Wade in the Water,” after which the event was named. Following several Bible readings, Campus Minister Rev. Howard McLendon set the tone for the evening by encouraging full vocal participation in the Baptist-style worship.
“Yesterday I sat quietly in mass in St. Ignatius church, and went about the Catholic rituals” he said, “so tonight I invite you to participate fully in this church.”
The vocal involvement aspect of the service was quickly embraced, as the service moved on the two spoken word poetry performances. The first was by MLK Scholar Patience Marks, and the second, titled “I (I) Have (Can’t) A Dream (Breathe),” was by students Mashaunda McBarnett, Ashlie Pruitt, and Daniel DeLeon. Both performances called out specific acts of racism committed in America this year, and demanded change as Dr. King would have. They were the perfect introduction into the main speaker of the event: the Rev. Brandon Crowley, pastor of Myrtle Baptist Church and Doctorate candidate in Theology at BU.
Rev. Crowley spoke on the topic of “beloved community,” a theological concept Dr. King wrote and spoke about extensively that is essentially the idea that God’s plan for the world is that humanity live in loving unity with one another. He described an instance in his own life in which he believes to have seen what such a community looks like and then broke down the image to discuss more broadly what “beloved community” is.
The scene he described was of a winter day in Cambridge, where he observed four children from four different racial backgrounds jumping rope. He then went on to give three reasons why this scene depicted beloved community, because, as he said, “any good black Baptist preacher is gonna give you three points.”
Firstly, the children watched out for the “man in the middle” just as we should worry about those that are stuck in the middle, forgotten by society and struggling deeply. He named the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, women, the LGBTQ community and others as the “man in the middle” in our society. Secondly he described how the children didn’t let the dangerous or cold climate keep them from playing. Thus, in a political and social environment that can be cold and harsh, we should not be deterred from helping and loving one another. Finally, he described how the children’s act of play was simply a way of loving one another, regardless of race. Though the children—“one black, one white, one Asian, and another Latina”—likely did not realize it, they were the incarnation of Dr. Kings dream.
Rev. Crowley left those present with the call to continue fighting for Dr. King’s dream, which is not yet manifest, and has reached a point of tentative stagnation. “The Bible describes justice like an ever-flowing stream but it seems mighty dry around here,” he said.