Continuing the celebration of Black History Month, the Black Student Alliance (BSA) organized a Gospel Brunch on Sunday, Feb. 24 in the Great Hall. The service included Lawrence Burnett, Professor of Music, and the Jubilee Singers. The first two-thirds of the program celebrated the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, while the remainder of the program commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.
The service consisted of responsive readings and corresponding Gospel music, which was performed by the Jubilee Singers. The readers delivered passages that concerned the ways African Americans have faced institutional discrimination, throughout history. They also recounted important historical moments of Civil Rights Movement.
The attendants responded by recalling the contributions of black activists, including Frederick Douglas, Barbara Jordon and DesmondTutu.
Near the end of the service, Todd Campbell ’15 delivered a Benediction. He said, “It is said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves, but how can we love our neighbors if we don’t love ourselves? We need to know our worth and our ability to make a change in the injustice that we see. We need to love mercy, do justice and work humbly. Our purpose in life is not to receive the fine things, but to ask ourselves, ‘what can I do to make my brothers’ and sisters’ lives better?’”
He affirmed that there is more equality in our society than before, but argued that there is still work to be done. “The poor, the LGBT community, and the immigrants are still oppressed. The invisible wall of hatred still exists between the races and within the races. We have not punched out against that wall,” he said.
After the service, brunch was served, during which Professor Burnett described as a typical Sunday dinner in African American communities. Burnett said that the service was a look at the culture through the lens of musical tradition.
“The service gave us a chance to reflect on roles African Americans play in history and also to raise awareness. The songs we sing are the emotional expressions of that history,” he said.
Campbell explained that Gospel music began during the time of slavery. “The music carried our ancestors through hard times. The songs were also coded messages so people in the plantation would know what was going on,” he said, highlighting the song Steal Away as an example.
The song is about the singer stealing away to Jesus and not having long to stay where he was. In fact, ‘Jesus’ was referring to Harriett Tubman, who was going to lead the people on the plantation to the North.
“Black History Month is important to the African-American community because you reflect on where you come from and the effort that was made to get you there. It is a time to look at the shoulders that you are standing on,” Campbell said.
The Jubilee Singers, according to the registrar’s description, perform “sacred music in the oral traditions of Africans and Black Americans.” They meet only during winter term to prepare for the Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative worship service and the Black History Month.