Members of the EMU Chamber Singers and Virginia Union University Gospel Choir perform "I Need You to Survive" together at Lehman Auditorium on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Convocation. (Photos by Macson McGuigan / EMU)


Despite a hefty snowfall on Monday, the weather did little to dampen spirits and deter EMU students, faculty, staff and community members from showing up to the university’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

The event, which has been held since 2019, honors the life and legacy of the late civil rights leader. This year’s theme was “Remember, Celebrate, Thrive” and featured a tour of the Northeast Neighborhood on Saturday, a movie screening of Rustin on Sunday, and a full slate of activities on Monday, which are recapped below.

Convocation featuring the Virginia Union University Gospel Choir

The Virginia Union University Gospel Choir, which hosted the EMU Chamber Singers at its Richmond campus in October (read about that here), traveled to Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Monday to perform a series of songs for Convocation. VUU Choir Director Joel Lester led 13 members of the group in seven soulful and spirited songs that had many in the Lehman Auditorium pews dancing and clapping along. The Chamber Singers joined the VUU Gospel Choir on stage for a performance of “I Need You to Survive” to close out the concert.

In her opening remarks, Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed asked the crowd how they would continue to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King after the holiday passes.

“How will we thrive, especially during a time of unrest and division?” asked Reed, who is EMU’s regional advancement director. “How will we thrive when many of us believe that, as a nation, we are not moving in the direction of peace, justice and equality? How will we thrive when old wounds and racist ways of thinking have reared their evil head? I believe Dr. King would say, ‘We thrive when we stand. We thrive when we break the silence. We thrive when we are caught up with what is right and willing to sacrifice for it.'”

In addition to Reed, city council members Chris Jones and Dany Fleming, as well as members of the local press, were in attendance. Read the Daily News-Record‘s front-page coverage of the event here. A video recording of Convocation is available to watch on the EMU Facebook page here.

Solidarity March

A group of about 20 demonstrators during Monday morning’s Solidarity March left an impression on the snow-covered campus — in more ways than one — as they looped around the University Commons track and marched across the grounds to Lehman Auditorium. Carrying posters reading “Keep marching,” “My hope is Black students will thrive on campus — not just survive” and “Free! At last!” the marchers reflected on the sacrifices made during the Civil Rights Movement and called for further work to promote racial equity.

Speak Out

At Speak Out, an open mic-styled event that offered an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings about the day, participants recited poems and read from speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr.

EMU junior Mikayla Pettus (pictured in the top photo) delivered a riveting performance about having a mixed-race identity. As she simulated herself getting ready for the day, putting on makeup and getting her hair ready, a recording of some of the offensive things people might say to someone who is mixed-race played over the speakers. A video recording of Speak Out is available to watch on the EMU Facebook page here.

‘Black & 25 in America’

Playwright and actor Jeremy Gillett performed his one-man show, Black & 25 in America, at Lehman on Monday. The play features five different characters in a series of vignettes about the lives of young Black people in America. Gillett effortlessly transformed into each character, adopting the mannerisms and colloquialisms of five starkly different identities, including a high school football star trapped in a house of crack cocaine dealers, a “brown kid from the suburbs” who resembled Theo Huxtable, and a gay Black man struggling with his sexual orientation.

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