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W&M community’s ‘Songs of Freedom’ to honor late Rep. John Lewis

  • Squares containing photos of 16 cast members
    Songs of Freedom:  Using a new online platform, performers from the William & Mary community will unite with various artists from across the country to honor giants of social justice to perform “Songs of Freedom: Concert for Civil Rights” on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.  Courtesy photo
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Using a new online platform, performers from the William & Mary community will unite with various artists from across the country to honor giants of social justice.

“Songs of Freedom: Concert for Civil Rights” will take place on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. on YouTube and Zoom with pay-what-you-can admission. Donations will support arts and education initiatives for Black, Indigenous, people of color and minoritized high school students, according to event organizers.

Francis Tanglao Aguas, W&M professor of theatre and Asian and Pacific Islander American Studies, will direct and produce the performance through his online endeavor Aguas Arts Ink with Madison Hauser ’19 and Margot Flanders ’22 also serving in production roles.

“Our civil rights heroes were very clear in their message that education is the great equalizer so this is our attempt to realize their dream for the next generation,” Aguas said.

The diverse cast will offer song, dance and poetry to commemorate key dates in the civil rights struggle that took place on Aug. 28 such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963 and the killing of Emmett Till in 1955, according to Aguas. The performance will be specially dedicated to the memory of the late Rep. John Lewis, who died on July 17.

“I'm glad to participate in this program that honors John Lewis,” said Professor of English and Africana Studies Hermine Pinson. “As a child of the civil rights movement, I lived with my family in Nashville and often visited Fisk University's campus during the time John Lewis, Diane Nash, James Bevel and others were participating in nonviolence workshops often held in Jubilee Hall. I wasn't old enough then to understand the significance of their work or the enormity of the task that lay before them. 

“I do now. Perhaps that’s the reason, to quote Nina Simone, I want to sing, difficult though it might be in these times, ‘because I know what it means to be free,’ and I hope the William & Mary community never loses sight of its mission to inspire our students to fight for freedom.”

Virginia's newly-appointed Poet Laureate Luisa Igloria, the Louis I. Jaffe Endowed Professor and University Professor of English and Creative Writing at Old Dominion University, will deliver the keynote poetry reading. Also starring will be Regie Cabico of HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam,” the Leah Glenn Dance Theatre, YELLXPERIL-Matt Nguyen-Ngo ’17 and Brandeis University Assistant Professor of Theater Arts Isaiah Wooden.

Among those featured will be W&M faculty members Professor of Dance Leah Glenn, Professor Emerita of English Jacquelyn McLendon, Instructor of Jazz Piano and Harmonica Harris Simon, and Pinson, as well as students Marcus Bengzon ’21, Quan Chau ’21 and Sumie Yotsukura ’22. Alumni among the performers will be Anthony Elopre ’09, Ameya Jammi King ’12, B.J. Minor, ’13, Branden Polk ’07, Alana Canty-Samuel ’18, Jamar Jones ’13, Kristin Hopkins ’15, Syreeta Mack ’08 and Christopher Michael Richardson ’13.

“I am proud to be part of this important moment when all over the world people are raising their voices in support of equality and justice for all,” McLendon said. “I hope ‘Songs of Freedom’ helps to reinforce the work that Rep. John Lewis dedicated his life to at the same time that it pays tribute to a most courageous and honorable man.

“This moment also gives me a chance to reunite with colleagues and former students and remember our first collaboration at William & Mary [in 2006] — ‘To Walk with Giants’.”

Leah Glenn Dance Theatre will present a new solo entitled “Letter to the Editor,” according to Glenn.

“This is a solo inspired by my father, John Lewis and the work and values that shaped their careers and lives,” Glenn said. “It will be performed by Christopher Page-Sanders, who has been a guest artist with my company for the past four years.”