Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer
The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration will include a new MLK Arts Festival, which seeks to elevate black student voices through performance and discussion, festival producers said.
To honor Martin Luther King, Jr., Vertigo Productions will sponsor the festival, which will take place Jan. 18 to 20. It includes two original student productions in Shanley Pavilion and two catered events in McCormick Auditorium — a discussion called “Inside Chicago” and a music and poetry event, Lift Ev’ry Voice.
Communication junior Elliot Sagay wrote one of the student productions, “Chains on Chocolate.” To write about slavery in pre- and post-emancipation America, Sagay said he thought about an experience he had on the subway and current political shifts. He also said he drew inspiration from King.
“He was a man that inspired such an amazing amount of desire to just fight for one’s own rights, and to fight for people’s rights who don’t have rights when you do, to give people equal standing,” Sagay said. “I think that in writing this play I’ve strived to kind of encapsulate those values in it because I think that ultimately it’s that message that needs to be put in contrast with our society.”
This is the 50th anniversary of both King’s assassination and, on campus, the Bursar’s Office takeover. The takeover lasted 38 hours when black students occupied one of the University’s offices with a demands list that called for fairer admissions, more programs in black culture and real estate holdings desegregation, The Daily reported in 1968.
Arts Festival Producer Kori Alston said these performances and discussions are a way to honor the takeover’s legacy.
“This is really an event about black student voices on campus,” the Communication senior said. “The Bursar takeover was this amazing example of black students using their voices and their bodies and everything to fight for the progress of their fellow black students and for themselves, and to fight for not only what we deserve on campus, but also just a fight to be heard, to be seen, to be visible. Think of (the Arts Festival) as a celebration of black visibility and black voice.”
“Afrocensored,” the other student production, focuses on three women who find themselves in Paris and confront Islamophobia, colorism and racism. Amira Danan, writer of the play, said she based her work on her own experiences, such as when she traveled to Paris and realized problems people may see in America are more wide-reaching.
“In thinking about the underbellies of our country and France — other countries outside of our country — I think that there are definitely a lot of parallels about how we disguise things like racism in our society,” Danan said.
In each of the events at the Arts Festival, Alston said people will get the chance to see and confront continuing problems in society.
Beyond the festival, the University will begin its commemoration Monday with a candlelight vigil and Days of Service and Learning, University President Morton Schapiro said in an email to the community. Then, on Jan. 25, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow will deliver the keynote address in Ryan Auditorium.
Sagay said as a person of color, he knows the goals King worked toward are not yet accomplished.
“Many of us still suffer a number of different discriminations that are still a result of the impact that slavery had on this nation,” Sagay said. “There are just like small things that happen that I think in a way can kind of help highlight the ways in which we have maybe changed less than we think we have.”