Three Tufts students were presented with the MLK Student Voices Award at this year’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. Andrew Harris, who submitted photography; Marsha Germain, who submitted poetry; and Ayomide Oloyede, who submitted a spoken poem, received this year’s award.
Applicants were asked to respond to the question, “What does love and creativity look like for you in the service of action for love and justice?” Winners were chosen based on their piece’s organization, originality, creativity, clarity and connection to this year’s theme.
The award committee sought to lift up student voices through works including essays, poems, songs, art, spoken word and other kinds of performances. University Chaplain Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger described the composition of the selection committee.
“Members of the MLK Day of Celebration committee, composed of staff from the University Chaplaincy, the Africana Center, Tisch College for Civic Life, and the GLADC, were on the selection committee,” Nelson Winger wrote in an email to the Daily.
Nelson Winger explained that the prompt for this year’s student voices award was inspired by the MLK Day of Celebration theme, “We Don’t Have Much Time: Raising Consciousness and Building the Future Now.”
Nelson Winger wrote that the theme originated from an excerpt from King’s book “The Trumpet of Conscience,” which stated, “But we do not have much time. The revolutionary spirit is already world-wide. If the anger of the peoples of the world at the injustice of things is to be channeled into a revolution of love and creativity, we must begin now to work, urgently, with all peoples to shape a new world.”
She added that this year’s winners stood out for their compelling creative work.
“Each winner submitted beautiful and powerful work as a response to our prompt,” Nelson Winger wrote. “The selection committee felt that each winner offered a compelling student voice through their spoken word poetry or photography. We also believed that their performances and artwork would deeply enhance our Celebration, which all certainly did! I can’t imagine this Celebration without their voices – spoken and visual!”
Germain, a sophomore, stated that she has been trying to connect to the Tufts community more through her poetry.
“I wanted to apply because I have obviously loved being a poet since high school when I started, and I was adamant this year that I would help promote poetry and creative expression to the Tufts black community through S.W.A.T, open mics, and my own work,” Germain wrote in an email to the Daily. “Furthermore, being part of the black community here at Tufts has helped me to understand my value as a black woman as well as my struggles as a black woman in America.”
Germain explained the meaning behind the poem she submitted, “Little Black Woman,” which she performed at the Day of Celebration.
“I intended for my piece to be a sort of homage to black women everywhere, almost like a love letter for all the black women who never got the thank yous and the honor and respect they deserved,” Germain wrote. “Winning this award was honestly such an honor. … I think it was especially validating both on a personal level to see that there are people who see value in my work and symbolically because I got to see the impact of my words on a real audience.”
Sophomore Oloyede also discussed the message behind his work.
“The message behind my submission is primarily about refusing placation by way of success stories,” Oloyede wrote in an email to the Daily. “We often hear, even on campus, ‘person made it out of unlivable conditions, grossly unfunded public school system, but they made it to Tufts.’ ... That’s amazing that they made it to Tufts, but let’s not skip over everything else before that. Why did they come from unlivable conditions, and how do we ensure that someone else doesn’t have to follow that path?”
Oloyede believes that individual successes cannot justify racist systems.
“It’s about refusing to allow these successes of ‘making it out’ to become a justification for keeping things as they are,” Oloyede wrote. “If your dryer only dries your clothes 1 out of 5 times, you’re going to be like ‘What the hell is wrong with this dryer’ not, ‘Wow, I’m glad it got it right one time!’ That’s how we should look at larger systems. We should celebrate success, but quickly after, we should examine the failures and see why they failed.”
Oloyede wrote that he is excited to perform his work for others at the MLK Day of Celebration.
“This award means that someone listened to my work. I was elated to have the chance to perform it for people even though mine is not a particularly ‘bright work.’ It’s scathing and belligerent, but someone heard what I had to say,” Oloyede wrote.
Listening to student voices is not enough, according to Oloyede.
“If you’re going to center my voice and the voices of other artists, you should be prepared to make real changes because these voices aren’t just loud; they are intentional and informed,” he wrote.