(Image via cbc.ca)
Arts & Entertainment Editor: Kamryn Kobel
This year marked UMass Dartmouth’s 21st annual celebration and remembrance of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The event was hosted over Zoom by UMass Dartmouth’s Chief Diversity Officer, David Gomes, and the President of the Student Government Association, Efe Oboh-Idahosa. UMass D’s Chancellor, Dr. Fuller, also joined the event.
The event featured two musical performances: a performance of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” by Shane Burgo and “Live Through It” by Umass D’s own D’SWORD Gospel Choir and the Unique Sound Band.
The event’s keynote speaker was activist and writer Feminista Jones.
Jones is currently a Ph.D. student who teaches at Temple University. She co-hosts the podcast Black Girl Missing and has been published in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Although she was introduced with facts and achievements, what was really impressive and engaging about Jones was the infectious joy and enthusiasm that she exuded.
Jones spoke with exceptional liveliness and enthusiasm about Dr. King. She discussed Dr. King’s exceptional oration and how much his oratory inspires her. Her love for Dr. King and his talent for speaking translated into Jones herself, as she attended the event and spoke with palpable knowledge and passion.
Jones immediately identified her favorite quality of Dr. King’s to be his radicalism.
“Saying that African Americans deserved rights was a very radical position to take,” said Jones, “and because of this, Dr. King was perceived as a terrorist and an enemy of the state.”
Throughout his career, Dr. King became increasingly radical, and Jones attributed this rising radicalism to his arrest experiences. Dr. King was arrested 29 times throughout his life. His arrests and his radicalism are often not taught or discussed, even on MLK day.
Gomes asked Jones what she thought the biggest misconception that legislators and lawmakers perpetuated about Dr. King is. She responded: “That they liked him!”
Jones talked about how the government, the FBI, and the CIA did not only dislike Dr. King– they hated him.
“They extract quotations that don’t push much,” she said. “They want to deny the influence that he had. They paint him as a dreamer, when he was actually a doer. He contributed scholarly expertise, and they downplay his intellect. He was a radical, and they never talk about him in a radical sense– they used to, and when they did, they called him a terrorist and public enemy number one.”
This watered-down version of Dr. King’s work is why Jones urges people to learn about MLK, his work, and his mission. She emphasized the importance of learning from those who came before us. Dr. King himself was a very studious man, having started college at age 15 and extensively studying Pan-Africanism. He even studied in Ghana with activist and writer W.E.B Dubois.
Jones urges us to learn these kinds of things about Dr. King, to read his numerous essays, speeches, and books, and to listen to his interviews.
“Learn who he really was, don’t rely on the soundbites we hear every year.”
Jones also spoke about her own career as an activist. Gomes asked her if there was an event in her life that inspired her to become an activist, and she gave a good-natured laugh and told him that it was hard to pick just one.
Jones said that the experiences that made her conscious of the world around her were what radicalized her into activism. She had experienced homelessness, she went to a predominantly rich, white school, and she had witnessed the devastation of HIV within her community.
In addition to these experiences, Jones also talked about her mother and how seeing her mother’s activism inspired her own. Her mother, who advocated for queer people and those with HIV, was a pillar in their community. Jones said that she was the type of woman to give someone the jacket off her back– literally. She’d seen her mother do that.
Oboh-Idahosa asked her if there were any other women that informed her activism, and Jones mentioned Anna Julia Cooper, Sadie Alexander, Amy Jaques-Garvey, Angela Davis, and Dorothy Pitman Hughes.
When asked if she had any advice for this generation of activists, Jones said that the most important thing is to have a purpose. “How do you find a purpose? It’s the thing you think about every day, and you don’t know why.”
She also urges young activists to do research and join with people who are already working towards your purpose.
“Build community. This is not about getting accolades or awards or money, this is about building community and making the world a better place.”
However, Jones was asked about the accomplishment that she is most proud of, she responded: “My son. None of the other stuff matters.”
None of the awards, accolades, or publications matter as much as her son, she said, who she is extremely proud of.
To learn more about Feminista Jones, you can read her book, Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminism is Changing the World from Tweets to Streets, her Time articles, and visit her on Instagram.