Nov. 4, 2008, was a bit­ter­sweet day for award-​​winning doc­u­men­tary film­maker Yoruba Richen. In the span of a few hours, Richen saw Amer­ican voters elect the country’s first African-​​American pres­i­dent and Cal­i­fornia voters pass Propo­si­tion 8, a ref­er­endum ban­ning same-​​sex mar­riage statewide.

As an African-​​American les­bian, these fights for civil rights and human rights, which have been such a large part of our recent national dia­logue, have also been extremely emo­tional for me,” Richen explained. “After get­ting angry, my next instinct was to make a movie.”

Richen dis­cussed that film, The New Black, during her keynote address Thursday after­noon at “A Tribute to the Dream,” North­eastern University’s annual cel­e­bra­tion hon­oring the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. More than 300 people packed the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room for this moving tribute, while others watched in a des­ig­nated over­flow room as well as online via live stream.

The gay rights move­ment took sev­eral pages from Dr. King,” said Richen, who directs the CUNY Grad­uate School of Journalism’s doc­u­men­tary pro­gram. “Protests, marches, Supreme Court cases, all of which advanced LBGTQ rights, came from the civil rights move­ment handbook.”

A Tribute to the Dream

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun speaks at Thursday’s “A Tribute to the Dream’ event in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room. Photo by Brooks Canaday/​Northeastern University

At the event Thursday, both Richen and North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun noted the impor­tance of society reded­i­cating itself to the fight for equality. They pointed to recent events in Fer­guson, Mis­souri, and New York City as evi­dence that progress to achieving equality is not inevitable.

In recent weeks and months, we have wit­nessed pro­found injus­tices,” Aoun noted. “Tragic events have torn the fabric of our society. These events, fresh in our minds, sadden and anger us, and over the long term they force us to seek a better outcome.”

One of the most salient lessons we have learned in recent months is the fight for equal rights in this country is one that will likely never have a defin­i­tive end,” Richen declared. “We may have vic­to­ries along the way, but it’s a battle that must be fought. And even when it seems the battle has been won, all too often it must be re-​​fought over and over again.”

Richen said another moti­vating factor for pur­suing her The New Black project was incor­rect news reports that Propo­si­tion 8 passed because African-​​Americans over­whelm­ingly voted for the mea­sure, thus “per­pet­u­ating the stereo­type of per­va­sive homo­phobia within the African-​​American com­mu­nity.” The film, which won the award for best doc­u­men­tary at the Urban­world Film Fes­tival in 2013, tells the story of the battle for mar­riage equality in Mary­land in 2010, while also delving into the African-​​American community’s under­standing of gay rights.

A Tribute to the Dream

Michael Bradley per­forms with Northeastern’s Unity Gospel Ensemble at Thursday’s “A Tribute to the Dream” event. Photo by Brooks Canaday

It was clear to me the pit­ting of these move­ments against each other just didn’t make sense,” said Richen, who shared a clip from the film at Thursday’s event. “It seemed so obvious that the move­ments were actu­ally interconnected.”

In his remarks, Aoun also high­lighted the impor­tance of embracing, not shun­ning, diver­sity in our society. He quoted King, saying that “the arc of the uni­verse is long, but it bends towards jus­tice,” and urged those in atten­dance to carry out King’s legacy in their daily lives both on campus and beyond.

North­eastern is bril­liant in its diver­sity,” Aoun added. “We rep­re­sent many races and beliefs. We share a bound­less devo­tion to the prin­ci­ples of equality and free expres­sion. Our diver­sity is not a zero-​​sum game; it is additive.”

Aoun high­lighted two ways in which the North­eastern com­mu­nity embodies King’s com­mit­ment to serving others. On Monday, hun­dreds of North­eastern stu­dents and com­mu­nity mem­bers will par­tic­i­pate in the university’s annual MLK Day of Ser­vice and Lead­er­ship by par­taking in ser­vice projects and work­shops focused on improving the community.

Aoun also hailed the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restora­tive Jus­tice Project, which is led by law pro­fessor Mar­garet Burnham and con­ducts research and sup­ports policy ini­tia­tives on anti-​​civil rights vio­lence in the United States and other mis­car­riages of jus­tice of that period. Most recently, as a result of CRRJ’s efforts, a state judge in South Car­olina exon­er­ated a 14-​​year-​​old African-​​American youth wrongly con­victed and exe­cuted in 1944 in the deaths of two white girls.

Thursday’s pro­gram included two videos that ampli­fied King’s mes­sage. The event began with a black-​​and-​​white video in which Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design lec­turer Mau­rice Emmanuel Parent recited excerpts from King’s Nobel Peace Prize accep­tance speech in 1963. A second video fea­tured North­eastern stu­dents and local youth reciting parts of King’s “I have a dream” speech and dis­cussing how his mes­sage car­ries for­ward today.

The event closed with Northeastern’s Unity Gospel Ensemble per­forming two songs: Wake Up Every­body by Teddy Pen­der­grass and Some­body to Love by Queen.

  • A standing-room-only crowd filled the Curry Student Center Ballroom....Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

  • Yoruba Richen, filmmaker and director of the documentary The New Black, discussed the intersection of the civil rights movement and LGBTQ rights....Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

  • President Joseph E. Aoun delivered remarks....Photo by Brooks Canaday/Northeastern University

  • Students listened to Yoruba Richen speak....Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

  • President Joseph E. Aoun delivered remarks....Photo by Brooks Canaday/Northeastern University

  • The Northeastern University Unity Gospel Ensemble performed on stage....Photo by Brooks Canaday/Northeastern University