Forum features famed songtalker and ardent civil rights activist

By Oleysa Minina

Contributing Writer

The Bucknell Forum continued its series “Creativity: Beyond the Box” with a woman who is not only a singer, scholar and author, but also a social activist who has used her love of song to bring about social change.

On Tuesday in Trout Auditorium, Bernice Johnson Reagon sent a message of strength and hope for all those going through hardships. The Bucknell Forum focuses on presenting people from a variety of disciplines that exemplify creativity and insightful experiences about the role of creativity in their lives.

The speech started with Reagon bursting into the captivating song “Anybody Here.” She emphasized that people should try to “make a racket with their bodies and create a pool of energy that everyone around you can feel.”

Reagon did just that through her speech, which focused on stories of how she used song, especially sacred Negro spirituals, to move and inspire people and bring about social justice and freedom.

The negro spirituals Reagon sang were “powerful and exemplify true music, true art and embody true passion,” said Morgan Davis ’12, director of the gospel choir Voices of Praise.

Reagon has worked as a music consultant and producer for several award-winning film projects, has earned Peabody Awards for her work in the radio series “Wade in the Water: African-American Sacred Music Traditions” and is the founder and director of the Grammy-winning a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock.

She said that she was “born” into singing in 1942. It has been her instrument of choice for change and transformation throughout her life, starting with the Albany Marches in the 1950s and especially during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, where Reagon was a member of the SNCC Freedom Singers.

Throughout the civil rights movement, Reagon was amazed at the transformative power of youth, especially during movements like the Greensboro sit-ins, and stated that “no one is a failure, unless you give up.” She said that the trouble they experienced was a “stirring that would become transformative.”

Throughout the speech Reagon interwove songs and spirituals that she has used throughout her career and life. For her, music and song unify people and help them discover who they really are, especially in times of change and troubles.

University professor Eugenia Gerdes said that she found it inspiring that as a cultural historian Reagon was “able to combine her knowledge of people and culture and the ability of her art to move people and bring about change.”

Reagon also urges students to truly connect with at least a couple of teachers because they can provide past experiences and guidance. She tells individuals to always inch forward and raise awareness about important issues.

“In every century, people will have the opportunity to contribute to an important cause,” Reagon said.

Reagon received a Charles Fankel Prize for her contributions to the public understanding of humanities, which was presented by former President Bill Clinton at the White House in 1995. Reagon is Professor Emerita of History at American University and holds the title of Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

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