Students and faculty gathered at Tommy’s Place on Thursday to reflect upon the life and achievements of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. For most, the event represented not only a celebration, but also a renewed commitment to the ideals for which King advocated.
The event consisted of performances by members of the USC community, as well as a keynote address by actor and voiceover artist Gerald Rivers. Each performer was asked to reveal what King meant to him or her personally, and many cited progress and hope.
Omete “M.C.” Anassi, a senior majoring in neuroscience, delivered a spoken word piece centered on the concept of freedom. The piece touched upon issues black communities are facing, such as police brutality, income inequality and a lack of political efficacy.
“I wrote it at this exact time last year,” Anassi said. “Unfortunately, one year later the words still resonate as much, if not more, than they did last year.”
Rivers, who credits King with being his source of inspiration, grew up in Compton against a backdrop of racial turmoil. He had two experiences that shaped his worldview: his best friend’s murder and his father’s paralysis after a car accident. Following the two incidents, Rivers — who was a serial truant — decided to complete high school and pursue acting. He graduated with honors and later started performing King’s speeches for various organizations like churches and youth groups.
“When I actually started listening to the words I was saying as Dr. King, they changed my life,” Rivers said. “In the last 30-plus years, there has never been one issue, one event, one occasion where Dr. King’s words were not appropriate. They are timeless.”
The event came a day before the inauguration of Donald Trump, whose comments have caused concern for minority groups. Ivory Chambeshi, a USC alumna and outreach manager with the University’s Small Business Diversity Office, performed “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”
“I’ve felt very defeated in the last few months, in terms of the state of our nation,” Chambeshi said. “It seems like there’s been a regression in the country’s direction. This song, for me, is a reminder that we’ve had hard times, but we’ll get through with faith, community and maintaining our moral convictions.”
When asked what King would think of the current political situation, Rivers responded that he would have wanted people to continue striving for rights and freedoms, but under unity and mutual support.
“Dr. King wrote a sermon called ‘A Knock at Midnight,’” Rivers said. “He said — and it sounds like he’s talking about today — people are more worried, more frustrated, more bewildered today than in any other point in history. So what we’ve got to do is remind them of what’s really important and get them to believe in themselves, and believe in something greater, again.”
Cynthia Brass, an administrative assistant for USC Recreational Sports and the organizer of the event, echoed that sentiment.
“We as a people have to stick together,” Brass said. “It doesn’t matter what your nationality or gender [is]. We have no clue what’s in store for us. So all we can do is be strong and be next to each other.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that this event took place in front of Tommy Trojan. The event took place in Tommy’s Place. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.