Spoken word poetry, saxophone and an inspirational message from author and motivational speaker Reggie Dabbs highlighted this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. memorial ceremony hosted by Freshman Forum on Monday, Jan. 22.
The event opened with a performance of an original poem by Jamillah Bell, a junior history major from Montgomery, and Myles Webster, a sophomore secondary education major from Moody, while Jermaine Van Buren, a sophomore theater major from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, delivered lines from King’s famous speeches.
According to Bell, the quotes were added because of the common misrepresentation of King.
“We just decided to perform a piece that we thought did justice to our vision of not only what we felt Dr. King represents to us, but how he’s been represented by other people,” Bell said. “In history, people just mold Dr. King to be whatever they wanna be, as opposed to what he actually was, so that’s kind of the place that I was writing from.”
The poem addressed questions of racial equality and justice in contemporary American society with lines like — “Passively accepting that black lives don’t matter unless they look like LeBron or sound like Kendrick” and “How talented must a face be to see justice? Is this the reason why black people all go to the league?”
The event culminated with an appearance of Dabbs, who delivered a motivational speech and engaged the audience in a sing-along to popular tunes.
“Honestly, I was kind of surprised when he brought out the saxophone,” said Garret Mingus, a senior marketing major from Auburn. “I was not expecting that.
“But it added a nice touch to it. You hear some motivational speakers and it’s just speaking. Reggie added another element to it, changed the pace up a little bit.”
Mingus said that Dabbs’ experiences were relatable to the audience because of the shared experience of pain.
“He had a really tough story that maybe you didn’t go through the same stuff that he did, but everyone experiences pain, and so, everyone has that common denominator,” Mingus said. “So, he could just relate to a lot of people.”
Among other stories, Dabbs described the night he found out he was an unwanted child of a teenager. According to Dabbs, the realization plunged him into a suicidal mood that lasted for 9 years.
“From 12 years old to 21 years old, you know what I wanted more than anything?” he asked. “You know what I wanted?
“I wanted to die and nobody knew.”
Dabbs said he survived the experience with the help of his foster parents, a teacher and a janitor, and he found his purpose in life.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets, even as a Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry,” Dabbs said, quoting King. “He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
According to Dabbs, his college professor who marched with King told Dabbs about the three necessary items all marchers brought to the protests: a washcloth to wipe the blood, a toothpaste to brush teeth before taking a mugshot and a dime to make a phone call.
“You’re the man,” he told Dabbs. “I dare you to be great.”
“That’s what I want,” Dabbs said. “I want to just do my job well.”
Dabbs said that his work in speaking to the next generation of leaders and empowering them not to give up is his reason for living.
“It’ll work out,” he said. “You just gotta be here.
“And my momma used to call it the miracle factor – you know, everybody has a miracle coming, but a lot of people give up before the miracle gets you.”