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International speaker and teacher Stephon Ferguson performed ‘I Have a Dream’ on the 56th anniversary of the speech

Seats were filled and emotions were high as Stephon Ferguson performed one of the most influential and important speeches in U.S. history. Ferguson’s rendition of “I Have a Dream” was performed Wednesday, August 28 in the Love Recital Hall at CMU. He is the only person licensed by the King Family to portray Dr. King and perform his sermons and speeches throughout the world. His interpretation and recital of the “I Have a Dream” speech resulted in tears, cheers and a standing ovation from CMU students, faculty, staff and community members. 

“Our students and Mr. Ferguson truly created a special moment tonight,” said CMU President Tim Foster. “Ferguson’s ability to channel Dr. King’s voice is remarkable, but the message he delivered about nonviolence and civility was even more remarkable and important in the current political environment we are experiencing as a nation.” 

Foster welcomed guests to the event and introduced leaders within the local civil rights community including Grand Junction resident David Combs and pastor Amani Bullock who were also speakers for the evening. 

Prior to “I Have Dream,” CMU music theatre major Brooklyn Buhre sang an arrangement of Pride (In the Name of Love) alongside CMU student trustee Amara Hobbs and chair of the Black Student Alliance Brooklynn York who introduced the song with a special reading. The famous song composed by U2 was written about the assassination of Dr. King. The song communicates the inability of tragedy to stop or diminish the message of universal love espoused by Dr. King and delivered to the world through his speech. 

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Brooklyn Buhre sings Pride (In the Name of Love)

“I felt something special tonight,” said Hobbs. “Like we were a part of something bigger than any one of us, and that by the community joining together with Mr. Ferguson we did our part to make things better. It was an emotional experience for me and I was honored to share it with Brooklynn and my fellow students.” 

York shared the sentiments of Hobbs and said that “the spirit of Dr. King was truly with us tonight at CMU.” 

Just over 56 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the most important oratory performances in U.S. history when he spoke the words of “I Have a Dream.” Dr. King’s speech changed the course of a nation by advancing civil rights though language, philosophy and spirituality — not violence. Prior to Ferguson’s keynote address he met with students and shared some of Dr. King’s teachings. 

“My gift and talent portraying Dr. King is less of a profession and more of a calling,” said Ferguson during his campus visit. “Dreams are forgotten if they are not remembered — and channeling Dr. King is my way of making sure future generations remember his dream of equality by hearing his words of hope.” 

Nita Mosby Tyler is a civil rights leader in Colorado who not only works closely with CMU but is also familiar with the work of Ferguson and applauded his visit to Colorado. 

“Mr. Ferguson’s performance and message are unforgettable,” she said. “The event marks a continuation of a conversation I had with President Foster last year about the hard work CMU is doing to bring awareness to civil rights, civil liberties and equality of opportunity in Colorado today,” said Mosby-Tyler. 

The university extended complementary tickets to the community as part of the CMU Civic Forum. The Civic Forum is an initiative on campus committed to making engaging speakers, topics and institutions available to campus and the community. The forum will cover topics including history, civic engagement, individual freedom, social equality, social justice and current events. 

In addition to community members, the CMU Volleyball Team attended as a team and occupied the entire front row of the recital hall. Their seating position was meant to demonstrate unity and to establish a theme for their upcoming season. 

CMU Head Volleyball Coach Dave Flemming watched the event from several rows behind and expressed pride in his team. 

“This is a group of student-athletes who see privilege in being able to play volleyball and want to use that platform to promote the very values that have made athletics possible for women today,” said Fleming. “Sometimes we forget that Dr. King’s teaching were not just about race but about equality which also includes women. While I am always proud of how they conduct themselves in the classroom and on the court, I was even more proud of how they are putting themselves forward tonight in the community CMU.”

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CMU Volleyball Team and Stephon Ferguson

Team captain Katie Scherr said that their "picture [taken with Ferguson] will remind them to stay grounded as they move forward in their education journeys.” 

In addition to the team, dozens of children and community members waited in line to speak with Ferguson after his speech as he signed autographs and counseled students on how to make a difference in the world.

CMU Vice President John Marshall moderated an on-stage question and answer session following the keynote speech which resulted in audience applause on a number of occasions. The applause occurred as Ferguson imparted the values, ideas and history behind King’s teachings. 

“What was remarkable about this event was that many people from many political dispositions gathered and celebrated the desire for civility — which is a value we all have in common. I believe that is a large part of what we must encourage at universities today,” said John Marshall. 

Also in attendance was the former editor of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Bob Silbernagel. Silbernagel initially proposed the CMU Civic Forum in 2018 in a letter to Foster and was pleased to see the initial idea expand to include events like the MLK celebration. 

“It was really powerful. One can only imagine what it was like to be in a crowd of a million people and hear Dr. King give the original speech,” Silbernagel said after the event. 

Ferguson has traveled the world reciting King’s speeches and sermons for more than 10 years. He works at the King Center and maintains a close relationship with the King family, which he also spoke about during the post event question and answer session. 

Prior to the speech Associate Professor of Music Kristen Yeon-Ji Yun, DMA, performed Draw the Sacred Circle Closer by Adolphus Hailstork. The cello composition was selected by Yun and will be included in her upcoming CD that will include a number of works composed by African American artists.

  • Stephon Ferguson met with students prior to The Dream Lives event

    Stephon Ferguson met with students prior to The Dream Lives event.

  • Students voice opinions about the future of civil rights

    Students voice opinions about the future of civil rights.

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Written by David Ludlam