All About Atlanta: Atlanta University Center

Glee Club
There is nothing like the power of the sound of young men raising their voices together as one. Image courtesy of Morehouse College Glee Club.

I took the long Valentine’s/President’s Day weekend off because I needed to love on my boys without distraction. And that’s exactly what I did. We made Valentine’s Day card mailboxes which my eldest insisted on carrying around and sleeping with all weekend long. (He did a great job of decorating it.) We learned to skate. (My youngest wanted to sleep in his Spiderman skates but I had to draw the line somewhere.) We ate our weight in popcorn while watching The Cars Trilogy. (I hate Disney but my boys love all things automobile.) We played indoor tag and read storybooks and fed the turtle and played with letter magnets and reviewed body part names and sang silly songs and danced and made pancakes and ate strawberries and cuddled and potty trained and cuddled some more.

It was the best Valentine’s/President’s Day weekend I have ever had.

But before it all ended, the last big activity we did was go see the Morehouse College Glee Club perform with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at their 109th Annual Concert which took place at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center. I’d been looking forward to taking my boys to see the Morehouse College Glee Club since attending one of their performances this past November when they’d sang a song in Yoruba called Betelehemu. I’d wanted the boys to see and hear these young men because I want my boys to see Black men doing everything.

That’s what I love about raising my sons in Atlanta. No matter the profession or hobby or interest or practice, Black men and women are doing it here and doing it well. I want my boys to see all of this and know that there is no pursuit beyond their grasp. Atlanta, to me, is the real-life Sesame Street that provides a solid entertaining and educational foundation for them to see every dream and whimsy realized.

I must have arrived at Atlanta University Center (AUC) at least 45 minutes early. It was a free community concert and I had to contend with parking and all. But I also wanted to take my time strolling with the boys across parts of the AUC’s campus. Plain and simply, the AUC is Black history.

The Atlanta University Center Consortium, which is the largest consortia of private African American institutions of higher education in the world, was first formed in 1929. Its member institutions are Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse School of Medicine.  Famous alumni of these brilliant centers of learning include Alice Walker, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Pearl Cleage, Esther Rolle and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The first educational institution of the AUC was Atlanta University—and that was founded in 1865 which was a mere two years after Emancipation.  Morehouse College followed in 1867. Clark College was founded in 1869. Spelman College followed in 1881.  And Morris Brown College (which is also located at the AUC) was also founded in 1881. Atlanta University and Clark College merged to form Clark-Atlanta University in 1988. (I have linked to pages/articles about each college’s history in this paragraph.)

When I think of how long these universities have been around, the people who launched them, and their first students, I am just filled with emotion. Think about it; these were people who had just been freed from lives of servitude and torture and their first inclination was to pursue growth and knowledge. They said to themselves, “I see something greater in myself and I’m going to do whatever it takes to realize that greatness.” This was after centuries of being told that they were less than human. If that isn’t evidence of strength of character and EXTRA-ordinary spirit then I don’t know what is. I appreciate the ancestors for embracing their inherent awesomeness against all odds. They are a constant inspiration.

I was thinking this as the boys and I took our seats in the Emma and Joe Adams Concert Hall and beheld the concert. Osinachi, my four year old, turned toward me with a bright smile and expression of awe as he heard the strings swell. Gabriel Uchenna, my two year old, sat on my lap and was transfixed by the young men’s voices rising above the instruments. I had to wipe my face with a wet nap at their reactions. Yes, My Children, take this beauty in and make it your own.

The wet works really came as the Glee Club performed Seven Last Words of the Unarmed by Joel Thompson. Dr. King once said the following:

God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

Dr. King referenced jazz and blues in this quote but it can easily be applied to all kinds of music that comes from the soul and bucks convention. Seven Last Words of the Unarmed does this and I urge you to listen to it at the link provided above.

I wish I could have captured the Glee Club’s performance of it but I was busy listening, watching, holding my sons and trying not to ugly cry with my mouth open, particularly during the fifth movement which is entitled Oscar Grant “You Shot Me!” If you watch the link, you’ll see why this moment in the performance was so impactful.  Just imagine an entire stage of Black men doing this. Their voices ringing out with the angst and the emotion and the hurt and the confusion and the anger we all know so well whenever we hear of a Kenneth Chamberlain or a Trayvon Martin or a Amadou Diallo  or a Michael Brown or a John Crawford or a Eric Garner.   Their voices reflected the shock and dismay of being killed for nothing, of being forever denied the opportunity to attend a concert with their moms at Morehouse College.

I wish I could have stayed for the rest of the concert but at intermission I gathered the boys and made the walk back to our car. They’d done pretty well for 45 minutes of their first symphony/concert experience and I wasn’t going to push it. Plus, Osinachi told me flat out that he wished to go home and eat chicken nuggets. No way was I going to deny him that. Also, Gabriel was eager to be strolled. I had to fight him to sit on my lap otherwise he would have insisted on being pushed around the concert hall to survey “his kingdom.” Both are quite resolute in their desires. God, I love them.

Until tomorrow.




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