Often when quizzed on what super power one would like to hold, the answer is “time travel.” Today, the whole WRA community had the rare opportunity to be transported back in time, all from their seats in the Chapel. Punctuating a week of reflection and celebration about the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., WRA welcomed Prester Pickett, immersive and poetic in his delivery of the words of Dr. King to a captivated audience of Pioneers. Pickett is a coordinator of the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center at Cleveland State University.
There’s a difference between reading and listening. Community members are likely versed in some of Dr. King’s words as written on the page, but receiving the words audibly was especially powerful. As Ms. Karam led the Reserve Choir, and then the audience as a whole, in singing We Shall Overcome, Pickett’s voice, toned to exquisitely mimic King’s own, entered from the back of the Chapel, booming out words like a megaphone. Purposefully startling at first, the 20-minute recitation seemed to embed itself authentically in no time. Pickett was not an imitator, he was a vessel.
King’s words as heard by the community were a journey in history, but also a reminder of the elevation of words to verse, a most powerful poetry. “I was a drum major for peace, a drum major for justice.” “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” “I just want to leave a committed life behind.”
It was the perfect finale for a week of purposeful programming, which began with the remarkable Dr. Amoeba Gooden holding space inside our Chapel on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and included visits from author Ric Sheffield and U.S. Historian and Kenyon College assistant Professor Francis Gourrier, as well as select film screenings of Rustin and The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. We heard our speakers address various topics, such as a deep analysis of Dr. King’s perception of Canada as a “haven”; the importance of unity and building bridges; an exploration of gender and marriage demonstrated by Rosa and Raymond Parks and their impact during the Black Freedom Struggle; and the power of curiosity and collective action.
WRA’s Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. James Greenwood ended the meeting saying, “I can’t think of a better way to end our week of MLK programming than to turn to the words of King himself.” Heartfelt thanks to Dr. Greenwood, Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Iiyannaa Graham-Siphanoum and the Student DEI Committee for the hard work that resulted in a truly powerful week on campus. We also mark and mourn the passing today of Dexter Scott King, the younger son of King and Coretta Scott King, after battling cancer valiantly.
Listen to Pickett and our other speakers here: