MLK Day Speaker: “At Our Best, We Are One Family”

The national holiday that commemorates the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. falls on the third Monday in January. But at Rivers, it is observed on the second Monday of the month, in an all-school assembly that serves to inspire the community and remind them of King’s legacy.

Guest speakers and performers have long been part of the assembly. This year, students gathered on Monday for a presentation by jamele adams, who might be classified as both a speaker and a performer, as well as a poet, DEI practitioner, and—as noted in the introduction provided by Director of Community Engagement Lucas Malo—a fashionista. Malo noted that he has known adams for some 20 years, since the two were colleagues at Brandeis, and, he said, “Who I am today is in part due to his mentorship.”

The high-energy, interactive presentation began with a moving performance of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” as a duet by Kam Harris ’24 and Head of Middle School John Bower. adams, who currently serves as DEI director for the Scituate Public Schools, then took to the Kraft stage to share his thoughts about community, family, the power of love, and the enduring wisdom of King. 

The Rivers Select Combo 1 was on hand to provide a jazz background for adams’ remarks. They led with a Charles Mingus tune that, as adams explained, had particular significance for the occasion: It was a piece titled “Fables of Faubus,” a protest song aimed at Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, who attempted to prevent the integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

As the group played, adams urged the crowd to “believe that it is possible” for love to conquer hate. “Everything is nothing until we believe it,” he said. “Believe that we can be together. Believe that hate doesn’t have to exist. Believe in forgiveness, not forgetness. Believe in your love.” He then asked audience members to enthusiastically affirm one another in a show of love and community. 

While he spoke, a group of students and faculty members sat to one side, creating works of art in various media inspired by adams’ remarks. “Art has always been part of the civil rights movement,” adams noted. The impressive works, completed within the 60 minutes of the presentation, will be displayed on campus in the coming weeks. 

The engaging, highly interactive presentation held the students’ attention for the entire hour. At various times, adams exhorted the audience to participate in a call-and-response dialogue, posed with them for selfies, and recruited volunteers to hand out colorful bracelets that served as a visual reminder of the love, connection, and support that exists in our community.

But the talk took a more serious turn when adams told students about being the target of a hate incident in Scituate: Someone created a mock tombstone bearing his name on one of the local beaches. He shared a brief video demonstrating how the community rallied around him—and illustrating the concepts he had presented by showcasing community love and support in action following this challenging and hurtful incident. 

adams tied the entire presentation to lesser-known quotes from King that resonate with him deeply. Among them: “Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” He expressed the hope that students would “leave this space feeling inspired to do more,” and he emphasized that “at our best, we are one family.” 

While there is still much progress to be made, said adams, he concluded on a note of hope. “Love is how we connect with each other,” he said. “It’s not always easy, but when it’s authentic and genuine, it’s always good.”
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