Wheelock Convocation 2017

September 05, 2017

Living Literature PerformanceDay Opens with 'Just Mercy' Performance

Wheelock College opened its Convocation Day 2017 with a performance of "Just Mercy" by Living Literature, a collective of Rhode Island-based artists and educators who teach literature through the unique and imaginative process known as readers' theater.

Living Literature's performance was an adaptation of the memoir Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Wheelock's 2017 Community Read book. In the Living Literature performance, three actors  inhabited the roles of several key players from the book as they read a series of carefully interwoven excerpts.

Just Mercy is the powerful true story of Stevenson's experiences as a gifted young lawyer who serves as a passionate, idealistic advocate for the poor, the wrongly condemned, and the women and children who are trapped in America's broken system of justice. Stevenson is executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University School of Law.

Stevenson demonstrates repeatedly how the criminal justice system is stacked against minorities and the poor, then argues that it is time to reframe the capital punishment argument: "The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill?"

Living Literature Artistic Director Barry M. Press said his group's goal is to bring the people featured in Stevenson's book to life in a way that helps the audience connect with the emotionally challenging subject matter. "This book can be a hard book for people to get through because it's one dark experience after another," he said.

Seniors Explore The Art of Change

Wheelock seniors continued the day with a luncheon featuring a presentation by Ernesto "Eroc" Arroyo-Montano about the role of art in promoting change, racial healing, and social justice. Arroyo-Montano is a Boston-based educator, artist, facilitator, organizer, youth worker, and community activist.

He introduced the students to "ANONYMOUS BOSTON, A Multi-Media Exhibition Examining the Media's Role in Urban Violence." Born from the idea that violence is everybody's responsibility, media producer and activist Joanna Marinova Jones organized the exhibit in 1991 in response to her frustration with the often intrusive media coverage made even worse by callous comments left online by anonymous readers and bloggers. Jones' multi-media installation included life-size photographs of murdered children, juxtaposed with the anonymous comments and responses from the affected families. ANONYMOUS BOSTON featured a site-specific graffiti landscape mural by street artist Kwest; photographic family portraiture by Arroyo-Montano; and a variety of audio interviews Jones recorded with the families. As an outgrowth of the project, Arroyo-Montano and other local musicians teamed up with families to get to know individual victims of violence and create songs in their honor.

Arroyo-Montano urged students that if they really want to make a positive difference in the world, they will need to see the people in the communities they hope to serve as partners.

"No one is stronger than the mothers and family members," said Arroyo-Montano. "As I do this work, I see we will be led by the most vulnerable....Those people who have been most subjected to oppression may know the best way out of it."

Convocation Ceremony

Convocation Ceremony: a Call to Action

The entire Wheelock Community gathered at 4 p.m. for a formal Convocation Ceremony that kicked off with a performance by the X-Clusive student dance team. Keynote speaker Rahsaan Hall, Director of the Racial Justice Program for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, then expanded upon the issues of race and justice that were explored in Stevenson's book.

Noting that incarceration rates for black and brown people are wildly out of line with their representation in the general population, Hall said, "You have to either believe in the inherent criminality of black and brown people or you have to believe the system is unjust."

Hall told the students that fighting for issues like social justice and racial equality can be overwhelming and it can take an emotional toll. But he said people who want to make a different can find hope in what may seem like the unlikeliest of places: society's most oppressed citizens. He cited as an example Walter McMillian, a young man featured in Stevenson's book, who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit.

"You need to see people's hope in the face of injustice," Hall said. "It is no easy task, but you should endeavor to be on the side of the oppressed."

What is Convocation?

Wheelock College formally opens its doors each academic year with a Convocation Ceremony. Convocation is Latin for "coming together," and this important Wheelock tradition is part of a day of learning for the campus, with special activities planned for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the larger community.

All incoming students read a specially chosen Community Read book prior to arriving on campus. They then discuss the book in small faculty- and staff-led discussion groups prior to the Convocation Ceremony. At Convocation, we address key themes raised by the Community Read book. Conversations about the book's theme continue throughout students' first-year courses.

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