Introduction of Dr. Reagon by Reverend Rick Spalding

Williams College, Williamstown, MA, Berkshire Institute for Student Activism

November 11, 2006 closing presentation to a conference of students, faculty and Community activists exploring ways to have student led organizing linked with issues in the community hosting the campuses.

Following this introduction, Dr. Reagon led the Williams Gospel choir in two freedom songs: Coalition Building and The Power of Song.

If Howard Thurman was right 
	that “community is the native environment 
	of the human spirit” – 
	then tonight we are in the presence of one of 
	this generation’s greatest – environmentalists.

In the four decades of her public life, 
	she has been a tireless advocate for the 
	ecology of justice.
In her scholarship as a social historian, 
	she has dug into the foundations of our society  
	and helped us find new reserves of our most 
	infinitely renewable resources – compassion 
	and solidarity.
In her solidarity with struggles of all kinds 
	against every power that pollutes the environment 
	of community, 
	she has insisted that we conserve – hope.
In her soaring musicianship, she has been a model 
of sustainable – joy.

She’s here with us this weekend because, 
	when we were imagining a bolt of electricity 
	to send through all the intricate wiring of 
	activism that we’ve all been creating 
	today – regional activism, 
		environmental activism, 
		multi-cultural and educational activism – 
we could think of no power more likely 
	to set off the blaze of light we’ve all 
	been hoping for 
	than the power contained in this human vessel, 
		Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Dr. Reagon has been connecting people and change, 
		hope and justice, 
			struggle and songs 
				since her own youth.  
She grew up in Albany, Georgia, the daughter of a preacher.  
She came to a turning point in her life in the early 1960’s 
	when, as a student, 
	she was arrested at a civil rights protest 
	and expelled from Albany State College.  
		(Students: this is a role-model!)
She became a field secretary in the Student Non-Violent 
Coordinating Committee – and she worked with Fannie Lou Hamer – 
		and she started singing the gospel of civil 
		rights all over the map.  
In 1973 she founded the a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock – 
	and she and her colleagues began to sing freedom 
	into our imaginations, 
		and rage into our pulse, 
			and truth onto our lips.  
In the years since then she has published dozens of 
essays and reflections, 
	composed and arranged and recorded hundreds of songs, 
	taught on the faculties of two universities, 
	received more than a dozen honorary degrees 
	(including one from Williams in 1995),
		and one McArthur “Genius” Grant,
	and given performances that have inspired millions of people.

One of my favorite Sweet Honey songs is 
	“We Who Believe in Freedom Will Not Rest 
	until It Comes.”  
		Talk about living your creed. 

In the brief article from Sojourners magazine 
	which BISA participants have in your folders, 
Dr. Reagon says she’s not a soloist – 
	she’s a song leader.  
Song leaders, she says, start songs – 
	but they don’t finish them.  
	They get us to do that.  
		They show us how to connect the breath in our lungs 
			to the words on our lips 
				to the truths in our consciences.  

The events of this weekend at Williams – 
	and, for that matter, the events of this week 
	in the history of the world – have reminded us 
	again how precious and beautiful and fragile
	is the ecology of true human community.
And now our eyes and ears and minds and hearts are open
	to drink in the balm and the energy and the 
	commitment we’ll receive 
		from her reflections on “Coalition 
		Building and the Power of Song.”  

Will you share my unbridled delight 
	in expressing our welcome and our gratitude 
		to Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon?