Over 75 people gathered for a lively, multi-cultural celebration last monday as Mills community members honored Martin Luther King Jr, with performances that included dance, music, film and spoken word.
Junior Merri Gordon, a Mills traditions coordinator that helped organize the event, said the celebration was a "visual communication" of a dialogue targeted towards new students held earlier in the day that addressed a variety of topics, including homophobia and racism.
The Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company (DAYPC) kick-started the event with an intricately choreographed multimedia performance designed to address the conflict between nurturing and negative environments that adolescents and teenagers face in today's society. The dialogue, which wove in and out of King quotes, was written through the collaborative effort of DAYPC students. DAYPC is an Oakland-based program for youth 13 to 18 years old to promote the message of nonviolence through dance and theatre.
The performance struck a chord in Gordon who said that it was a good reminder of the significance of King's life for the people who struggle for what both they and he believed in.
"It's not just the movement, it's the principle behind it," she said.
Gordon stressed that it is up to the new generation to continue what movement leaders of the past did.
Former and current Mills students followed DAYPC. Senior Glodean Champion presented her video, "Black History: A Retrospective," that used still images and music to depict the history of black people through the eyes of a woman of color; a perspective that historically has rarely been used to tell the history of black people.
"I wanted to dispel the negative stereotypical myth that is projected through the condensed version of black history that is taught in school," Champion said.
She said that she plans on showing her piece in Oakland and San Francisco high schools during black history month.
Audience member Rebecca Frank, a freshwoman, found the film to be thought-provoking.
She said the video made her think about "who is teaching black history to us and what it should mean…and what our history should be telling us."
Ophelia Stringer, a class of 2005 Mills alumna, recited King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech of 1964. Frank, who had previously never heard the speech, said she admired King for choosing to seize the opportunity the acceptance speech offered to spread his message to a large audience.
"It was just very honest," she said. "He was addressing issues in his speech."
Stringer complemented King's speech by performing a spoken word piece she wrote titled, "A Word for Dr. King."
Senior Patricia Contreras Flores followed with two poems, a story and a song that was so heartfelt she wiped tears away from her eyes at the conclusion of her performance.
Gordon then honored civil rights leader Rosa Parks with her rendition of, "In Memory of Rosa Parks" a poem by Maya Angelou.
Unlike other poems by Angelou, which Gordon said focus on Park's sensuality, this poem "was very action-oriented."
Junior Jamilah Bradshaw gave the closing performance, with an untitled poem that she wrote. Her performance was peppered with wordplay and outbursts of song that both tickled the laughter out of the audience and stunned the crowd into awestruck silence.
Bradshaw said she referenced "certain aspects of black culture," such as the "discovery of jazz," "listening to Stevie Wonder," and "having your sister braid your hair" as "ways to make you feel at home and connected and at peace."
She said that she wanted to portray "humanity, manhood, and black culture as brilliant and beautiful."
Freshwoman Shoshana Bass was one of many who sensed the fire behind Bradshaw's words.
"It had so much soul in a way that it could touch anyone; in a way that reached further than any kind of barrier set by society," she said.