MLK event focuses on our duty to Dr. King's dream
Herman W. Hemingway ’53 bracketed his Martin Luther King Day keynote address with the poetry of Langston Hughes, evoking first a grim consideration on what happens when a dream is unrealized and finishing with a heartfelt expression of dreaming’s necessity.
A packed house in the Shapiro Campus Center auditorium responded thunderously to the elegance and the life experience presented by Hemingway, the first black man to graduate Brandeis, who was both friend of Dr. King’s and also Hughes’ student escort when the poet visited the campus in February 1953.
“You may have attended dozens of programs like this,” Hemingway, a distinguished lawyer, educator, public administrator and activist, told the crowd. “I must tell you that my message to you will be no different.”
A Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
- Langston Hughes
It was the only challengeable statement he would make, for as he wove his way through his own biography and the life of Dr. King, he opened up a perspective on their life and times that was new to most listeners.
Hemingway met King at the first meeting of their Alpha Phi Alpha pledge group, at the Hemingway home in Roxbury.
“The doorbell rang and at the door was a brown-skinned man of short stature, in a dark suit with a white shirt and tie and a hat with a wide brim,” Hemingway recalled. “He said ‘My name is Martin King and I am a PhD graduate student at Boston University. I am also an ordained minister, and I am joining your pledge group.’ At that point, there was an unusual collective silence.”
King, Hemingway said, “was always cloaked in great dignity. I am pleased to inform you that he received no special treatment” – except perhaps for the pledges compliance with his request that there be no profanity during meetings. “He had to complete all of the assignments, the pleasant and the unpleasant ones, including the making of the pledge paddle… [At times] he would joke and tease like a college freshman.”
King’s pledge brothers continuously wondered “why a young man of all that education, social status and a profession would seek to become an Alpha brother,” Hemingway said. “What had he hoped to gain?”
Hemingway wondered about this for years after, he said, “and I think I now have it.”
“Dr. King was a man of deep faith who recognized his need to grow and to learn more,” Hemingway said. “Perhaps Dr. King had entered the real world too early and he realized he had much more to learn.”
Incorporating the diverse experiences of graduate study and fraternity pledging with the teachings of Gandhi and other philosophers of non-violence were all part of king’s preparation for the role he would play in the civil-rights movement, Hemingway said.
He then turned to the duties incumbent upon the inheritors of the dream of equality and social justice that was nurtured by King and his allies in the movement. He enjoined listeners never to neglect their obligations to vote and to serve on juries.
“All people have the inalienable duty to seek positions of power and influence in this society ourselves, and to support those that think the same way that we think,” Hemingway declared. “Then and only then can the controlling institutions correct those inequities,” rooted in prejudice, that persist to this day.
“I am here this evening to remind you of your debt,” he said, “the debt owed to Dr. King and to those whose rights are still violated in this country.”
He urged students to be agents of change for the good of the disadvantaged and to be vigilant to preserve and extend the gains of the civil rights movement.
“We are here today, at this time, at this very moment, enjoying the legacy of Dr. King,” Hemingway said. “But please take note. By accepting this legacy, we have acquired a tremendous debt to him and to this nation… The dreams that he had have become truths, but it is now up to us. We cannot allow those dreams nor the truths that they became to die."
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
- Langston Hughes
In addition to Hemingway’s keynote, the program included singing by Maria Termini and Louise Grasmere, poetry from master of ceremonies Jamele Adams, Amanda Dryer ’13 and Eliana Light ’13, dance by the Kaos Kids and the So Unique Step Team and by the Boston Tap Company, and a recreation of Dr. King’s speech on loving one’s enemies by Amanda Pereira ’15.
Preceding the Martin Luther King Day program, Brandeis and Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, Boston’s oldest interfaith social action organization, once again ran a Day of Interfaith Service in Levin Ballroom. The highlight of this year’s program was an on-site service project packing meals to distribute to local neighbors in need.
Donations were collected prior to and during the event, resulting in over 6,440 highly nutritious macaroni and cheese meals being packaged. These meals will be delivered this week to food shelters in Boston, Cambridge, Dorchester, Brighton/Allston and Natick.
About 75 volunteers packaged the meals. Outreach, Inc. coordinated the project and similar meal-packing projects all across New England and the country.
The Interfaith Chaplaincy, the Brandeis Interfaith Group, the MLK and Friends and others also supported the event.
The educational component of the day included interfaith dialogue among the participants about what inspires them to service and social action, poetry (by Amanda Dryer ‘13), songs, and breakout sessions to learn more about organizations that are living Dr. King’s dream today.
Participants had a chance to learn about and get involved in the essential work of four organizations: Road to Redemption, English at Large, the Advocacy Network to End Family Homelessness, and the Sudanese Education Fund.