For those of you young turks who can’t remember a time before hip-hop, or before sampling, or even before Michael Jackson had a pointy nose, soul legend Curtis Mayfield probably sounds as old-fashioned as Frank Sinatra or Ludwig von Beethoven. But to the eight artists assembled on the stage of Whittemore Theater last Friday, our man Curtis was an endless wellspring of inspiration. Jazz bassist William Parker came to campus with an over-the-top octet, featuring poet, playwright and activist Amiri Baraka, ethereal singer Leena Conquest and a horn section that had the audience doing the electric boogaloo in their seats.
So yeah, they played familiar Curtis Mayfield tunes like “People Get Ready,” “Pusherman” and “We the People Who are Darker than Blue.” But what blew the minds of average mortals like me was where they took these songs, with the 75-year-old Amiri throwing out lively verses and exhortations and Leena leaving her microphone to dance downstage like a gazelle and William keeping the beat with that constant, knowing smile of his like he’s found the secret hiding place of the ultimate cookie jar. I really don’t remember the last time so much talent was mustered in that tiny theater. I mean, if talent was water, Whittemore would have been filled to the brim and boiling over.
“The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield” was just one of the events on campus celebrating Black History Month. I know, I know, it may seem ironic at a college where the jazz octet probably outnumbers the total population of African American students on campus at any time. But the concert also drew a diverse audience from the wider community and I think really helped students put themselves into that wider context. Other events have included a talk by Elise Guyette, author of Discovering Black Vermont, and one by Emily Bernard about interracial friendships during the Harlem Renaissance.
You know, if you took all of the children serving as soldiers around the world and lined them up next to each other, arms outstretched and holding hands, they would make a human chain 250 miles long. This human chain could also throw a serious wrench in the nefarious plans of several warlords, rebel groups, paramilitaries and government armies, but of course putting an end to the exploitation of child soldiers will not be that easy. I mean, what could possibly be more distressing than society’s failure to protect 300,000 children from the brutality and deprivation of war? Okay, perhaps society’s failure to protect millions of children from the brutality and deprivation of hunger. These two distressing subjects are the focus of one not-for-the-faint-of-heart class offered this semester, called Guns, Hunger and Children in International Society.
Sure, you might argue that you couldn’t possibly get any further from world hunger and war-torn children than this little snow globe called Marlboro, but you would be wrong. These subjects are so far from academic, thanks to the first-hand knowledge of Bridget Hynes, visiting professor of politics. Bridget has had field experience in South Africa, Namibia, Angola and Sierra Leone, and worked as a human rights observer for returning refugees in Guatemala. Okay, so she has this sweet voice and pleasant disposition, but I know she has seen and heard things that would make my toes curl. Bridget’s class is as tangible as a poke in the eye, looking at how hunger and warfare are experienced directly by children in communities around the world. From this eye-poking, toe-curling perspective, the students will be uniquely able to evaluate international responses to child hunger and child soldiering. Yeah, they may not be able to get 300,000 child soldiers to hold hands, but they will research the effectiveness of NGOs and chose one to support through their own local action.
Anybody who regularly stumbles around campus after dark looking for their dorm probably noticed that it was a new moon last night…and if you were really paying attention, that it was the second new moon since the winter solstice…and if you still don’t know where I’m going with this, a lively group of students took the resident dragon out of the dining hall for a fiery breath of fresh air to remind you. That’s right, it was the Chinese New Year, and time for everyone on campus to remember that there is a whole blooming world out there where people aren’t huddling in the snowy dark reading Nietzsche. The dragon made several graceful turns in front of the OP building, accompanied by hoots and whistles and cat-calls and rebel yells, then sashayed around the outside of the dining hall before coming back inside because everyone was totally freezing and, apparently, hungry.
Yes, the dragon dance was just part of Marlboro’s observation of the Chinese New Year, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit. Clearly the highlight, judging from the line stretching around the dining hall, was a huge buffet of meiwèi (yummy) Chinese food whipped up by Ritchie and his crew. I did not notice any lagomorphs on the menu, but the sweet and sour pork was amazing and the steamed vegetables were an auspicious welcome for any rabbit. There was one table where Chinese calligraphy was being demonstrated and attempted and ink was generally being daubed about. After dinner, the group of students that travelled to Jilin Province for language study last summer shared some of their experiences. This was followed by a viewing of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, a documentary about the 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square with eerie parallels to current events in Egypt. And if anyone was still in doubt about it being a new moon, there was always the barely starlit walk back to their dorm.