Langston Hughes once wrote “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore — And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over — like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”
I choose to believe that dreams deferred tend to explode. Not in the sense that they disappear, forgotten from the dreamer’s mind, but that they become so unbearably beautiful they must be seen, heard, felt — must explode — within the hearts of audience members and visionaries. On Tuesday night, countless dreams were heard echoing off the walls of Sudler Hall at Commingling: A performance arts commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Coordinators wanted the commemoration to be thought-provoking, and the performers delivered on that promise. The show began with an explicit directive for the audience — to question and think. The poems, recitations, jazz pieces and songs were orchestrated to make us ponder the true nature of Dr. King’s legacy and how we can reduce the forms of segregation that still arise today.
The Premier Jazz Ensemble as well as other jazz musicians captured the soul of Harlem Renaissance music inspired by the centuries of hardship for the African-American race. Young students from the Betsy Ross Magnet School paid tribute to the trials and tribulations of Langston Hughes. Shades — the Yale a cappella group that values the coming together of a diverse set of members — sang melodic slave spirituals calling for hope and triumph over pain.
The slam poet performances, overall, stood out in their pointed tackling of larger themes of social injustice, such as segregation. The room shook with thoughtful bouts of silence immediately followed by hums, snaps and moans of appreciation after each performance.
Ifeanyi Awachie ’14 of the slam poetry group Teeth spoke about marrying a revolution through the eyes of Correta King, spouse of MLK. The piece conveyed the idea that we celebrate MLK’s birthday — not his death — because we celebrate life and the continuation of his work. We all grieve for his loss, along with the perpetuation of racism today, but must carry his torch because, like Correta, we are now wedded to a revolution. The poem made tears stream down my face in the moments Awachie described standing over the grave at Dr. King’s funeral. The poem ultimately grabbed the audience with the power of loss, but fueled everyone to persevere.
Members of Word, another slam poetry group, voiced concerns on segregation’s transient nature and the stark lines between black and white in the city of Chicago. Rianna Johnson-Levy ’17 spoke to the reality that segregation does not derive just from institutional laws, but rather from our own socially constructed view of ourselves. Struggling with issues of weight and beauty, she defined what it means to feel comfortable in your own skin, even when the world effects a standard of white, skinny and blonde. Continuing along this theme, Olivia Klevorn ’17 painted the portrait of her beloved Chicago, a city in which the purity and fortune of whites are geographically contrasted with the uneducated, crime-ridden, gang-infested ghettos of black neighborhoods.
The show’s most powerful message was found in the enlightening and energizing Frank Brady of the Future Project, a group which allows kids from New Haven to explore passions for what they love. He took the audience on a fast-paced journey through the alphabet, vilifying society’s harsh punishment of race, gender and minorities. We cannot abandon MLK’s cause, he said, until popular culture is a true reflection of all of humanity, allowing all races and nationalities to see how beautiful they truly are.
Sweet dreams were thrust out into the open, spilled into the air of that hall. Each poem was delivered like a dried up raisin from the sun into the mouths of audience members. The words burst open with the succulent juices of truth, exploding from a dream deferred and hopefully empowering the continuation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and revolution.