The Brandeis community gathered in the Shapiro Campus Center Theater on Jan. 21 for the thirteenth annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, this year titled “There Is No Him Without Us.” The event, sponsored by the Men of Color Alliance and the Dean of Students office, commemorated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the African and Afro-American Studies department. 

After performing his own spoken word piece about police brutality and gun violence against Black people, Dean of Students Jamele Adams introduced the keynote speaker for the event, Alex Montgomery MA’17. Montgomery attended the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and received the Sylvia Rivera Graduate Award from the Intercultural Center. 

After leading a moment of silence for indigenous victims of colonialism, Montgomery reminded the audience to “tell the truth about Dr. King and all his complexity.” Montgomery read a few famous Dr. King quotes, and then explained how the context of his speeches changes the meaning of the phrases. “To limit his existence into romanticized nuggets of feel-good quotes is to erase the evolution of his politic in the midst of his unwavering love for mankind,” they said.

Montgomery also named a number of civil rights activists who have been left out of the mainstream historical narrative, including Bayard Rustin, a gay Black man, and Prof. Emeritus Pauli Murray (AMST), a Black woman. They explained that “the civil rights movement is a lot more femme and a lot more queer” than how it is now portrayed. 

Chari Calloway ’19 also spoke at the event, largely about intersectionality in the  civil rights movement. “Let me remind you of the Black folk and queer folk who too dreamed,” she said. Calloway mentioned the legacies of several famous and influential black women, such as Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Toni Morrison. “We owe our lives … to the folk who stared down the barrel … and peeked over the mountaintops of hatred and saw a glorious day of dawn for freedom for Black folk,” she said.

In addition to speakers, there were a number of performers, including Nyah Macklin ’16, a Brandeis alum who sang the Black National Anthem; the Toxic Majorette Dance Line; the DMJ United Voices of Praise Choir and more.

One of the performers was Kwesi Jones ’21, who recited an original poem. Interspersed with lines from songs of iconic black musicians, his piece highlighted several important civil rights activists. “A single ray of light cast down from the sky and nurtured the earth with destiny, sprouting from the soil emerged none other than the good Reverend Dr. Martin,” Jones said, later adding, “Martin became the deep bellow on the soundtrack of freedom.”

Jones also talked about the true origins of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, pointing out that “before sister Rosa’s gracious act of nonaction, it was 15-year-old Claudette Colvin who first gave up her seat on the bus. … Claudette was pushed into the shadows of history and allowed Rosa to stand in the light that she cast on the grand stage of freedom.”

The event was followed by music from the Brandeis University MLK Sound Collection, which included an hour and a half of music through the decades in the SCC Atrium and was DJ’d by Brandeis alum DJ DCASO.