by Daniel Coleman
On Jan. 16, 2017, I attended a ceremony hosted by Millsaps and Tougaloo Colleges in remembrance of the life and efforts of Civil Rights activist, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The theme, “Commemorating the Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was filled with passionate expression, soul shaking Negro spirituals, quotes from Dr. King himself, and a quickening sermon by guest speaker Bishop James E. Swanson, Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church.
I enjoyed how the commemoration service was conducted and run by a combination of Millsaps and Tougaloo College students, professors, administrators, and myself. The service began with an observation and reflection by Reverend Larry Johnson, Chaplain of Tougaloo College and Ann Phelps, Interim Director of Religious Life at Millsaps College. Each of them spoke about the efforts made by both Millsaps College and Tougaloo College to “improve the cause of freedom, collaboration, and racial healing.” They spoke of how stories of the past are varied between the two communities and how each individual then and now struggles with the problem at hand and search for a solution. They offered a radical selection, for us to do nothing but, “Wait, watch, and listen.” The reflection was a statement that voiced how sharing stories and singing songs is not going to solve the problems that we all face, but it can and will create an experience that we will forever cherish and remember.
After this reflection, the Student Body Presidents from each school read an excerpt from two of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches. Noah Barbieri, Millsaps College SBA President, read an excerpt from “The Summer of Our Discontent”, and Michael Cleveland, Tougaloo College Student Government Association (SGA) President, read an excerpt from “The Ethical Demands for Integration”, both followed by words on racial healing by Dr. Beverly Hogan, President, Tougaloo College. Each presentation was followed by several songs, two of which came from the Tougaloo College Women’s Ensemble.
Bishop Swanson’s, message was passionate, expressive, and motivating. He spoke about how Dr. King was not as docile of an individual as many might think. He said his impression of Dr. King was from first person point of view, as he was a young man in the days that Dr. King graced the earth. He said that Dr. King realized that the Civil Rights movement was not just for African Americans, but it was for every race of oppressed people: Black, Hispanic, Asian, and even some Whites.
Bishop Swanson’s message aroused a fire in my soul. Dr. King is a figure that I look up to, but until this ceremony, there were certain aspects of his life that I was unsure of. The message from the Bishop opened my eyes to see and understand the true meaning of the movement and of Dr. King’s efforts. I have been motivated to press for a greater good, regardless of the obstacles I may face. The ceremony concluded with a monologue and song performed and sung by student leaders from Millsaps College and Tougaloo College, with participation from the spectators. This ceremony was one filled with power, emotion, observation, and planted in me the state of mind to do more for a greater good. In my opinion, Dr. King was remembered well and his dream, still in the making, is coming true.