First AME church Youth Choir.
A speech by Dr. Eric Williams, Curator of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, surrounded by music from six outstanding choirs and readings of three prize-winning local student essays made for an inspiring tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King on Saturday, Jan. 18, at Bethlehem Baptist Church.
The annual event was organized by Ventures in Community, a coalition of about 60 faith communities and nonprofits that support a hypothermia center and network on issues related to poverty in the area. The program was organized by Rev. Abe Smith, Pastor of First AME Baptist Church.
Dr. Williams noted that for the first time in history, humans have become the agent of our own destruction and said “Brothers and sisters, we are all we have. Let’s live our lives in peace, love, and justice.”
A quote from Dr. King — “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” — was the theme of a student essay contest for local high school students. The winner was Obinna Ekeaqwu of Mount Vernon High School, who wrote “Rev. King calls on us to keep our eyes open for moments to spread mercy and grace. He does not expect us to walk a million miles. He expects us to walk one. While that mile may seem insignificant to us, the effort can change somebody’s life. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. teaches us that none of us is too powerless to make a difference.”
The three top winners read their essays from the pulpit to enthusiastic applause. Each received a cash prize. Second place went to Turner Bumbary of Thomas Jefferson High School, and third place to Victoria Laffittie of Mt Vernon High School. The essays were ranked by four members of the Ventures in Community steering committee, who did not know the author’s names. All students who submitted essays received a gift.
The Home School Chorus performed an inspirational piece that started with a young soloist singing about speaking out with one voice and added singers from the choir and the audience in sections changing the refrain to speaking out “with a million voices.”
The Mount Vernon Unitarian Church choir performed a complex original piece called “King for a Day” that asked audience members what they would do if they could be Dr. King for one day.
The program ended as always with the combined choirs and audience singing the famous abolitionist song “Battle Hymn of the Republic” directed by Mark Zimmerman, choir director of Mt. Vernon Unitarian.
Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk gave standing ovations at several points and met briefly with the essay winners.