This past weekend, Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium and Yale Science Building played host to a slew of activities outside their normal repertoire: West African drumming, soul music and poetry.
The events were part of the Peabody Museum of Natural History’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For the 24th year, King’s legacy of environmental and social justice was honored during a two-day celebration by the museum. While previous iterations of this event series took place entirely in the Peabody, this year marks the first when celebrations were hosted in the Yale Science Building and Kroon Hall — in addition to the Peabody — due to the reduced capacity of the museum, which is under renovation.
While the link between Martin Luther King Jr. Day — which New Haven also celebrates widely with civil rights and religious commemorations around town — and the Peabody Museum may not be immediately clear to new visitors, the event was carefully organized to highlight the interconnectedness of modern environmental and social issues, as well as celebrate the local community’s diversity through performance.
“This event is important to the community. It’s important to us and we wanted to keep it going,” Peabody Director David Skelly told the News in an interview. “What’s exciting is that we’ve pulled it off, especially this year where we’re halfway closed.”
Throughout the celebrations, stations set up in the Peabody Museum allowed visitors to learn with representatives from local social and environmental organizations, like the Yale African American Affinity Group and the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.
In the Yale Science Building, along with more informative stations, activities included an interactive drum circle, WORD poetry performances and a concert from South African songstress Thabisa Rich.
Chris Schweitzer, program director for the New Haven/Léon Sister City Project, told the News that he sees the connection between environmental and social justice as extremely logical.
“Environmental issues have social consequences,” Schweitzer said. “They don’t affect [all] members of society in the same way. The people who are the greatest proponents of climate change are least affected. Just look at who’s affected by lead poisoning in Detroit. That’s not just.”
Kroon Hall’s main auditorium served as a children’s activity hub for events on Sunday — activities included Black Jeopardy, screenings of speeches from Dr. King and to finish, a group belting of “I Will Survive” and other 1960s songs in a karaoke session.
Jesse Delia, the Camps and Public Programs coordinator for the Peabody, told the News that she was especially pleased with the children’s events in Kroon this year.
Delia told the News that the event opted for a “more informal event” this year, in comparison to a conference for kids last year.
“I just love that there is a dedicated youth space,” Delia said. “The karaoke [was] really sweet.”
Observers and attendees commented on the help that the separation of events into three buildings contributed to further relaxing the tone of the celebration. But the change did pose some logistical challenges, with Delia noting that some attendees had trouble with finding their way through the various locations — including buildings that did not exist at this time last year.
At a DJ stand in the front of the O.C. Marsh Lecture Hall — in the same spot where lecturers stand to deliver presentations for the largest classes at Yale — was Kenny Powell, who has worked the event for the past 22 years. Regarding the adjustments due to Peabody’s renovation, Powell told the News that he actually “likes the location change.”
“But we wish that Yale did more to promote the event to the broader community, because now it’s trickled down to just a couple of Yale families,” Kenny noted.
On Monday, Kroon Hall continued its hosting with a poetry open mic and competitive invitational slam: the Invitational Zannette Lewis Environmental and Social Justice Poetry Slam. The annual event was also formerly held in the Peabody.
Anthony McPherson first entered the poetry slam last year. Despite experiencing severe nervousness and a lack of sleep this year, he said, he took home the $1,000 first-place prize with a potent mix of humor, movement and personal narrative in his performances. He, too, noticed the change in venue.
“The energy of the Peabody was much tighter, I could feel the energy going right to the microphone,” McPherson told the News in an interview. “Here was a good venue, it felt like [the audience] was interested and energized. But I don’t know if all of the energy was going towards the microphone.”
Other events on Monday included West African drumming, courtesy of the Kouffin Kanecke Company, to start the day’s performances in Marsh Hall. They were followed by Paul Bryant Hudson, a local New Haven singer-songwriter specializing in jazz, Motown and soul. Steppin’ out, a Yale step team, performed, and Red Supreme Productions lead a hip hop dance performance and workshop.
Down the street from the Peabody, the New Haven Museum hosted three local children’s storytellers who shared the story of King. In between performances, kids and their parents discovered the museum’s galleries.
According to Skelly, the Peabody plans to continue to put on the annual MLK celebration and its Fiesta Latina, even after the museum fully shuts down for renovations in July. Next year will mark the celebration’s 25th anniversary.
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