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Singer Simon Estes and Poet Sonia Sanchez Headline BU’s MLK Day

Ode to the Common People features student, faculty, and staff performances

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Sonia Sanchez

Poet and activist Sonia Sanchez will read at this year’s commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. In the player below, she reads her poem "Our Vision Is Our Voice" on Def Poetry Jam.

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Boston University will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., Day on Monday, January 21, in words and music, drawing on faculty, staff, students, and alumni to lead the commemoration.

This year’s event, Ode to the Common People: A Celebration of the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, will feature a performance by renowned bass-baritone Simon Estes, a professor of music at the College of Fine Arts school of music, and several of his students at BU’s Opera Institute. Recent graduate Jonathan Chin (CAS’07), a founding member of the slam poetry group Speak for Yourself, will read an original piece he created for the event, and vocalist Allison Ritts, the senior administrative secretary of the Howard Thurman Center, will sing, accompanied on piano by her father, Reverend Gary Ritts of the Second Congregational Church, in Cohasset, Mass. Sonia Sanchez, the poet, playwright, and activist, will be a special guest at Monday’s event.

“Since the theme is Ode to the Common People, we thought it might be nice to have a ‘common person’ up there performing,” says Allison Ritts. “We’re just trying to enliven the people who may not usually have a voice and empower them to act out and to speak out.”

Chin, whose poem “Dear Boston University” was featured at last year’s Commencement, says he is “honored beyond words” to perform with Sanchez, winner of an American Book Award for her collection Homegirls & Handgrenades, author of more than a dozen books of poetry, and recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Award and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. Chin has written a new poem for the King celebration. The piece, “Oaken,” is centered on contemporary perspectives on faith and religion; Chin found inspiration in King’s background in theology and based his style on that of noted African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks.

“In literary terms, Sanchez is a sister to Brooks, since they both worked to establish the same movement,” Chin says. “Knowing this connection has helped me choose my inspiration.”

Other performers at Monday’s homage to King (GRS’55, Hon.’59) include the Inner Strength Gospel Choir and the Boston University Symphonic Chorus. Ode to the Common People will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. in the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Hall, 775 Commonwealth Ave.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.

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