The Rice Black Student Association held its annual vigil for Martin Luther King, Jr. with a special focus on the 50th anniversary of black students matriculating at Rice. The program, entitled “Dreamers and Doers — Acknowledging the Collective Work of Community As We Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Black Undergraduates at Rice” included a candlelight vigil followed by performances, speeches, including one by Provost Marie Lynn Miranda, and a reception.
Martel College junior AJ Barnes said he attended the event not only to support his friends who helped organize and participate in it, but also to recognize the major milestone that he felt was not so long ago at all.
“The vigil was a time to honor, remember and reflect on a movement that we (students) did not experience but whose legacy we do,” Barnes said. “The vigil made me think about issues related to race, especially representation in higher education, and how as a Rice student I can engage and educate myself more in these issues.”
A group of about 40 students, faculty and community members participated in the vigil outside Sewall Hall on the night of Jan. 17. After the circle of individuals lit candles and reflected on Rice’s past, King’s legacy and the presence of black students on campus today, the student group Melodius Voices of Praise led the attendees inside to the sound of “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” The song gained popularity in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s.
Martel College sophomore Keanu Mitanga, a student at the Shepherd School of Music, performed the spiritual “Deep River” at the commencement of the event. Association of Rice University Black Alumni President Akilah Mance (Jones ’05) spoke of the importance of the day, especially to her personally while growing up in Atlanta, GA, King’s hometown.
“Year after year, we pause to contemplate how we can take the lessons of Dr. King and use them to make a more inclusive campus, city and society,” Mance said. “As we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, let us remember that his work, along with so many others’ work, paved the way for us to sit at a university like Rice 50 years ago, and now today.”
Former BSA President Rebecca Isaac (McMurtry ’12), who now works in science education, said she hoped students would remember to never give up on their journeys, and remember the value of being at Rice.
Miranda, who was asked to speak on how she has embraced the goals of those in the civil rights movement to further justice in her community, reflected on her links to Rosa Parks, and what Parks represents.
“When I think of the civil rights movement and all the work that went into it, I [find] myself constantly asking the question: Would I have had the courage, would I have been able to work hard enough in those difficult times in the 1950s and 1960s?” Miranda said. “And I think the answer to that question every time I ask it is I’m not sure.”
Miranda, who attended college on a Rosa Parks Scholarship, said she has tried to and continues to work towards shaping a more inclusive, diverse, tolerant and loving environment in higher education. She ended her speech with a quote from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Alumna Pretta Stallworth, a consultant and Adjunct Professor of Business at Belhaven University, ended the night with a reminder to rise to the call of action.
“[Even with] the fear of getting involved, the fear of being afraid of what people might think, the fear of a lack of knowledge and even the fear of success … Go forward,” Stallworth said.