Martin Luther King Jr. Celebrated in Song

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is broad and deep, and there are many ways to honor that legacy: Solemnly, thoughtfully, sadly, hopefully. At the annual Rivers MLK Day assembly, held on Monday, student organizers chose to do it joyfully, commemorating the slain civil rights leader through music.
It was a decision made some time ago that came to seem particularly apt this week, on a campus still grieving the recent loss of faculty member Dan McCartney. Said Ava Archibald, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Rivers, “I thought given where our community is currently, we needed a chance to get up and dance. To celebrate the freedoms King fought so hard for, to learn a little more about some of the music embedded in African traditions, felt very much to me like the perfect way to lift our community’s spirits while honoring the legacy of this great man.”

As Kalifa and Koliba—a seven-piece band that presents an irresistible blend of jazz, Afro-pop, and traditional West African music—took to the stage, it proved to be nearly impossible not to get up and dance. The group, led by percussionist and singer Mohamed Kalifa Kamara, played several upbeat songs, at one point inspiring a conga line of students and faculty members that snaked through Kraft Dining Hall to whoops, cheers, and applause from onlookers. Kamara spoke of King and his emphasis on love and respect, but he also exhorted the crowd to have fun, and it appeared that both messages were received.

Before the band’s set, several student leaders who helped organize the event shared remarks. Rayha McPherson ’20 noted that King “aimed to change minds by appealing to hearts,” adding that, after last year’s MLK Day assembly, she “realized that progress is really only achieved if everyone is not complacent.” Aliesha Campbell ’20 and Adebiye Oyaronbi ’21 addressed the crowd, noting that celebrating music has always been a part of African-American culture. They shared the back story behind the song known as the black national anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which was then performed by John Bower, Middle School DEI coordinator, taking time out of his current paternity leave to make an appearance.

The assembly brought uplift both through music and through the commemoration of King’s words and deeds. McPherson, in her remarks, quoted King’s belief that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality” and then appended to it her own words: “I hope that we can come to see this as well.”