By Annie Lesny, Psychology major, CLA Ambassador
The People Speak Read-In, organized by the Oregon State Women’s Center, is an enlightening event focusing on social justice issues and expression through various arts. Invited by a friend on Facebook, I was immediately intrigued as to what this event would entail. As I walked through the library quad, gazing at the beautiful Oregon sunset, I had no clue what was in store for me at The People Speak Read In. Passing by the stunning works of art that bring the Valley Library’s walls to life, I pondered on the possibilities of this inclusive event. Celebrating Martin Luther King and his beautiful life’s work, this event empowers individuals to speak and read from powerful literature focusing on social justice.
The event began with some classic soul music, exactly from the time period that Dr. King thrived. The perfect choice of ambiance allowed for open minds and open hearts, taking everyone back to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Offering pizza, as every good event should, the night kicked off to a great start.
The event leaders introduced themselves and their backgrounds in social justice. The themes of the night were listening, reflection, expressing, and evaluation.
We formally began by discussing Howard Zinn and his relation to the event. Zinn spent his life dedicated to the civil rights movement and equality. As a best-selling author and film-maker, he created a film called The People Speak. The People Speak features some of the world’s greatest performers. We then watched a few clips from the film. They read from first-person work (literature, songs, poems) that covered topics as broad as the war in Iraq to Christopher Columbus. The unifying theme in every piece is the intensity from an individual whose rights were compromised. In my opinion, the most notable scene was singer John Legend reading a speech given from Muhammad Ali, after he refused to be conscripted and sign up for the Vietnam War. He gave this moving speech right as he was being taken to jail. The film was the sole inspiration for this deep night. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his entire life fighting for equality, and this event celebrates him by sharing beautiful work that represents individuals’ narratives on inequality.
From the groundbreaking speech by Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, to Tupac’s rap to the president, the night was filled with unifying closeness and insight. After everyone shared a work that resonated with them, we ended the night by all writing a “love letter” to ourselves. This consisted of our values, our fears, our hopes, and the person we aspire to be. In socially divided times, we all need to be present and here for one another, and stand up for all individuals. This night was a beautiful example of how the power is in the people, and each of us can make a change, indefinitely.