January 19, 2016 – Georgetown is honoring the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a week of musical, academic, spiritual and service events that included a concert and the awarding of the 2016 John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award yesterday.
Nakeisha Neal Jones (G’02), executive director of Public Allies DC, received this year’s Legacy of a Dream Award, presented to an emerging leader in Washington, D.C., during an MLK Day ceremony prior to the concert.
This year's Let Freedom Ring! concert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts featured Grammy Award-winning singer Yolanda Adams. Georgetown and the Kennedy Center partner annually for the event that also showcases the Let Freedom Ring! Choir comprising members of the university and greater Washington, D.C. communities.
Say Something, Do Something
Choir members joined together under the leadership of Rev. Nolan Williams Jr. and accompanied Adams on two songs. The choir also performed two other selections tied to the commissioned selection and theme – “Say Something, Do Something.”
Williams, CEO of NEWorks Productions and chief music editor of the bestselling African American Heritage Hymnal, has been commissioned each year since 2003 to compose a new work or arrangement for the Kennedy Center celebration.
He said the song he wrote and the theme were inspired by recent social unrest in the United States – protests sparked by racial profiling, unfair treatment by law enforcement and the mass shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, and San Bernardino, California.
“As every citizen encounters situations where we see injustices taking place, we don’t always feel the need to stand up and let our voices be heard. And often injustices continue with the silence of the majority,” said Williams. “The hope is that the song is a call to action to encourage people to be more proactive.”
Why We Can’t Wait
The concert on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was webcast live.
Just as the theme for the Kennedy Center concert makes a call to action, the MLK planning committee – led by co-chairs Patricia Grant, associate dean in the McDonough School of Business, and Andria Wisler, executive director of the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service – has implemented a similar theme.
The #WhyWeCantWait campaign comes from King’s 1964 book about the nonviolent movement against racial segregation in the United States – specifically the 1963 campaign in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Dr. King’s work, Why We Can’t Wait, is a seminal one,” says Grant. “Dr. King believed in the extraordinary power of nonviolent direct action. Similarly, these words spoke to us and underscore the importance of social justice activism, particularly for a university like Georgetown.”
The MLK planning committee and the Office of the Provost are encouraging faculty to incorporate King’s acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize into their course curriculum this month.
365 Days a Year
“While there are MLK Week events, we know that not everyone can make it to an event,” Wisler says. “We are simply trying to show up in spaces where people are – in the classroom, online on social media, with a display at the bookstore and in a full-page letter to The Hoya that will appear on January 22.”
MLK Week not only engages each of Georgetown’s five campuses – Main Campus, Medical Center, Law Center, School of Foreign Service-Qatar and the School of Continuing Studies downtown location – it includes events beyond the week of MLK Day.
“We want everyone to participate in at least one event that is part of the MLK celebration,” Grant says. “Nothing is too small, and in fact, as a member of the Georgetown family, you can propose a program. After all, the message of the man is one that resonates 365 days a year.”