Musicians use MLK day to promote unity on campus


Jazz studies director Reggie Thomas conducts the NIU Jazz Ensemble while his wife, Mardra Thomas, performs vocals at a Martin Luther King Jr. tribute show Jan. 19. The group performed a protest song by Billie Holiday.

By Darius Parker

Darius Parker

Staff writer

T @Sir_Harlem

DeKalb | Students used live music and poetry to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday in the Holmes Student Center’s Carl Sandburg Auditorium.

The event, which was hosted by The International Association of Jazz Education, centered around performing arts and was used as a tool to promote unity and change among musicians within the campus and DeKalb. The show included performances from jazz ensembles, readings of King’s speeches and spoken word poetry.

Students performed original pieces inspired by King, such as “Agape,” or love, from Jacob Slocum, graduate jazz studies student. Adrian Smith recited a speech King delivered before the momentous march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

Kenneth Leftridge, International Association of Jazz Education president and senior jazz studies major, said the event was one of many created to promote unity on campus.

“What our organization is trying to do is to bring everybody together along the lines of the arts …,” Leftridge said. “We’re using people outside of the Music Building, inside of the Music Building, to build a sense of community. And that, of course, is what MLK was about, because it feels like Northern, along the lines of the arts, is very separate.”

Reginald “Reggie” Thomas, associate professor and coordinator of jazz studies, who Leftridge credits with the idea of the event, conducted the NIU Jazz Ensemble. Thomas’ wife, Mardra Thomas, joined as a guest vocalist and performed Billie Holiday’s protest song, “Strange Fruit”.

Although the auditorium wasn’t filled to capacity, Bobby Cooper, International Association of Jazz Education vice president and senior jazz studies major, said the show would be a stepping stone toward making the event bigger and better for the years to come.

“I want [the audience] to feel a sense of empowerment and pride for who they are, and I want them to come away with a better understanding of what Martin Luther King stood for and also how the music that we’re listening to now relates to that as well…,” Cooper said.

Sophomore theater major Schanora Wimpie recited a poem about contemporary black issues by a TEAM Englewood spoken word group called “Used To.”

“That poem was so powerful because it takes a lot to stand up, even in front of a multiracial room, and to say those things… ,” said Dominique Williams, sophomore business management major. “… It hit me when she said Dr. King was turning in his grave because I’ve been saying that for years. These people crazy out here.”

Carlos Brown Jr., junior jazz studies major and International Association of Jazz Education publicity chairman, said the initial reason for hosting the event was there weren’t programs to truly honor King and Brown thought a good way to honor him was through music. He said he wants students to appreciate Martin Luther King Day rather than just getting a few extra hours of sleep.

“The significance of having it on the holiday is to better observe him… . What a lot of people don’t know is that the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech isn’t the only speech he did,” Brown said. “We have to keep our community informed. Martin Luther King did more than just have a dream; it’s about putting that dream to action … .”