On Monday, Georgetown held its tenth annual “Let Freedom Ring” Concert at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall in celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The show included a performance by Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin, the presentation of the John Thompson Legacy of a Dream award to Dr. Clarence B. Jones, and an appearance by President Barack Obama.
The concert began with a piece of music entitled “Buses are A-Comin,” inspired by the “Freedom Riders” of the 1960s, who rode buses in southern cities in protest of segregation laws. After the music, several speakers, including Toddchelle Young (COL ’12), discussed King’s legacy.
After these speeches, University President John DeGioia presented the Legacy of a Dream Award to Dr. Jones, who served as lawyer, advisor, and speech writer for Dr. King. Jones discussed the 2008 election of President Barack Obama with the audience, saying that it was the result of the work of many activists, like King, who struggled for equal rights. According to Jones, both Martin Luther King and John Thompson “challenge us to be the very best that we can be,” and that Americans must “go where there is no path and make a trail.” He accepted the award in tribute to other fighters, or, as MLK once called them, “winter soldiers,” who struggled in all conditions for equality.
In an interview, Dr. Maurice Jackson, a Georgetown professor of African American studies, said he thought Dr. Jones was a deserving recipient of the award.“Not only was he Dr. King’s lawyer … he played many different roles behind the scenes,” Jackson said. “It’s great that people like that are honored. … Everyone is not going to be on the marching lines, but everyone can make [a] contribution.”
After the Thompson award presentation, McFerrin preformed for the crowd. His performance mainly consisted of vocal improvisation, and at many times he encouraged the audience to participate along with him and the choir.
While the concert had a celebratory atmosphere, many speakers reminded the audience that the fight for dignity and justice has not ended.
“The danger of doing these kind of observances every year is that we treat them as retrospectives… we lose sight of the fact that there’s still yet work to do” Rev. Nolan Williams Jr., the event’s music director, said.
Dr. Jackson asserted that inequality between the African American and white communities persists today, especially in areas of education and employment.
“Many African American males are dropping out [of school],” he said. “Whites in Washington, D.C, make three dollars and six cents for every one dollar a black person makes,” pointing out that the unemployment rate in predominantly black Anacostia is 28 percent, above the national average of 8 percent.
It is this kind of indignity and injustice that the concert encouraged people to fight against as part of its celebration of Dr. King, Rev. Williams asserted.
“We have a theme for all of you who believe that social injustice anywhere is social injustice everywhere,” Rev. Williams said at the end of his speech, echoing the ideas of the Freedom Riders. “You can lock us up, you can shut down government, you can do whatever, but buses are still a-comin… and it is my hope and my prayer that all of you will leave here tonight with that renewed determination.”