Yesterday afternoon at 2 p.m., an Inter-Faith Worship Service held in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drew well over 100 students, faculty, and community members to Thompson Memorial Chapel. As the College’s opening celebration of King’s birthday, the service comprised a variety of readings and addresses from students, College administrators and invited guests.
President of the College Hank Payne opened the afternoon’s program by welcoming all those who had come, both those who could actually remember King’s lifetime and those who had only learned about it through historical accounts. He compared the distinction between experiencing an event and reading about it in a textbook to the difference between reading a poem and memorizing it. He pointed out that by establishing a memory for something, be it an event or a poem, a person internalizes the memory and makes it a part of himself.
President Payne’s address was followed by a liturgical dance by Medha Kirtane ’00. Intended as a form of worship, her dance expressed a story through body movement, rhythm, and colorful costume.
Chaplain of the College Robert K. Buckwalter gave the invocation, which was followed by a series of student readings. Royce Smith ’01 of the Black Student Union read a poem by Martin Luther which King is said to have carried with him in his pocket throughout his life. Smith’s commentary following the reading discussed the long-term process necessary for racial healing.
Joe Kauffman ’99 and Max Weinstein ’00 of the Williams College Jewish Association offered a reading of Zechariah 4:1-7, which promoted the importance of spirit. Kauffman chanted the verses in Hebrew and then Weinstein followed with an English translation.
Kate Hedden ’98 of the Williams Christian Fellowship read selections from More than Equals by Spencer Parker and Chris Rice. She reminded everyone to keep in mind what it really means to embrace the tenets of Christianity. She urged the Christian members of the congregation not only to devote themselves to the love of God, but also to treat other people with the same amount of love and respect. That is, to be a Christian not only nominally, but in spirit.
Zehra Abid ’99 of the Williams College Muslim Student Union concluded the student segment with a reading from the Koran in Arabic. Unfortunately, no translation of her piece was provided.
Reverend Peter T. Elvin then led the people in a “Passing of the Peace” ceremony. Participants were encouraged to take a moment to greet those around them and to wish them peace. Smiles and handshakes were passed among the people in a friendly gesture of community among strangers.
Following this ritual, the assembly was treated to an essay written and read by fifth-grader Rachel Glover. The charming Glover gave her own personal reaction to the issues with which civil rights activists such as King dealt. “I don’t know how it feels to be always mistreated everywhere I go. I don’t know how it feels to be told I can’t drink from a certain water fountain or eat in a certain restaurant,” she said. “I do know how it feels to be angry about much smaller things. When you’re hurt and angry it’s hard not to hurt back.” The audience members were moved by her youthful, yet savvy insights.
Next Dr. Robert Johnson-Smith, Pastor Emeritus at Salem Baptist Church shared excerpts from a series of letters he had written to King after his assassination. The two were contemporaries and well acquainted. His address entitled “Letters to Martin Luther King, Jr.” began with a letter he wrote to King in 1976 describing the decline in race relations in the United States at the time. “Truth is we have lost ground in the field of civil rights,” he said. In his next letter, written two decades later, he unfortunately had to give King more bad news. “Racism is very alive,” he said. “Affirmative action is in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital of human freedoms and the prognosis is not good.”
Following a closing hymn, Associate Chaplain of the College Rabbi Devorah Jacobson gave the benediction.
This service was complemented by an evening event at Chapin Hall last night. At 8 p.m. a variety of student groups performed. The program was filled with songs, dances, and speeches. This celebratory occasion was concluded by a candlelight vigil from Chapin Hall to Rice House.