Reverence for civil rights movement figures: “The Meeting”

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Graphic by Spencer Light | The Broadside (Contact: slight@cocc.edu)

By Katya Agatucci | The Broadside (Contact: katyaagatucci2@cocc.edu)

In honor of the 10th Season of Nonviolence, members of the Afrocentric Studies Club came together to perform a play recognizing the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm Little (more commonly known as Malcolm X) and other influential figures.

Deon Lofton [left], playing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Brandon Smith [right] playing Malcolm X. In this scene, King and Malcolm X were meeting for the first time and they decided to arm wrestle. The two took their debate about the Civil Rights Movement and how each of them decide to deal with it to a physical match.
“The Meeting” depicts an imaginary conversation between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in 1965, amid the height of the civil rights movement. This depiction was written by Jeff Stetson in 1987, winning eight NAACP theatre awards that year.

The play featured students Deon Lofton as King, Brandon Smith as Malcolm X, and Marcus LeGrand as Malcolm’s bodyguard Rashad. The play was performed on March 1 and March 2 in Hitchcock Auditorium at Central Oregon Community College.

“We also went to the local high schools and we had the opportunity to run parts of the play during February during Black History month. That was pretty powerful to be able to bring that to the other schools,” said Gordon Price, Student Activities Coordinator and advisor of the Afrocentric studies club.

“They never had a meeting like this. The only recorded actual documented meeting that they’ve ever had was a quick handshake for a photo, after one of King’s speeches. I think that was in 1963. What I hope for is that they have actually met and have talked things over and that they came to some sort of agreement,” Smith said during a discussion after the reading of the play. Smith also explained that many parts of the play were pulled directly from their speeches.

Marcus LeGrand [left], who played Malcolm X’s body guard Rashad, Deon Lofton [middle], who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Brandon Smith [right] who played Malcolm X talking with the audience after the reading of the play. They are all active members of the Afrocentric Studies club at COCC.
Ten years ago, the same play was read by Price and Jason Graham, also known as MOsley WOtta. Price played King and Graham played Malcolm X.  

“It’s always been on my mind because it was a really cool experience. I had a great time doing it and it was a pretty powerful play,” Price said. When Price came back to Central Oregon Community College in 2017, he and the Afrocentric Studies Club were trying to come up with what to be involved in for the Season of Nonviolence, and decided on “The Meeting.”

The three members from the club started rehearsals late fall according to Price. “[The play] was fantastic. I’m still beaming from it. They kind of just organically grew and Brandon, Deon and Marcus all jumped in and committed to it and put the time and effort into it.”

LeGrand said being from the south, he just had to be involved in an event like this. “All voices need to be heard, not just black voices. Every voice needs to be heard. I just want to make sure that everyone is heard.”

While rehearsing and learning about their characters, Price and LeGrand both realized that Smith and Lofton did not know that much about King and Malcolm X.

“The experience of looking through it with young eyes, something that I grew up with, so it was really cool to watch these two mature into their roles,” LeGrand said.

Price said that Lofton and Smith never celebrated Black History in school. “It was a shock to me to know that there were two young, black men who are not getting anything from their history and their culture, but then it became an opportunity for us to pass some of that information on. One of the coolest things about the play was to watch these guys learn about these two men while taking on these characters and understanding them.”

Smith said that as he was researching Malcolm X through watching speeches, interviews and reading about his life, the main message that he received was to be a leader.

“What I’m taking away from this is that you don’t have to sit by and suffer; you can make a stand and really in any context, be a leader. That’s what I hope everyone takes away from this.”

Lofton related to his character because of his similar personality. He said that he is calm just like King was. “I think with this role, it wasn’t easily obviously, but I could really relate with the nonviolence and trying to talk things out.”

Lofton is active in the Afrocentric Club and the Latino Club, and has attended conferences and mentoring panels as well. “I talk to kids and guide them through college. I’ve gone to a lot of conferences and [have met] a lot of cool people,” he said, adding that he does anything he can to get involved, meet people, and spread the word.

The reading of the play might also make its way to the Redmond COCC campus. The members have been asked to come out to Redmond and perform on their campus, according to Price. Anne Marie Hamlin, Humanities Department Chair and professor, teaches an African American literature class in the spring and has asked them to perform for her class also.

The event was made free to the public thanks to Office of Multicultural Activities, Deschutes Cultural Coalition, Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Humanities, Brooks Resource Corporation, The Old Mill District, ASCOCC and the OSU Cascades Student Fee Committee.

The Season of Nonviolence was started in 1998, which was the 50th anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination and the 30th anniversary of the assassination of King. The dates of their deaths span from Jan. 30 to April 4, so this time frame is dedicated as a time to reflect, help end oppression, and restore equality and respect for everyone in honor of those figures who fought for those rights. 

The Afrocentric Studies Club meets at 12 p.m. on Thursdays in the Multi-Cultural Center.

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