Local high school hosts Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

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Scott’s Branch Middle/High School, in partnership with St. Paul Elementary, held a Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at 1 p.m. on January 17 in the gym at Scott’s Branch. “On behalf of the Scott’s Branch faculty, staff and students, it is my honor to welcome you here today,” opened Student Government Association President Faith Lawson. Amonte Brown, Secretary to the Senior Class, spoke of the solemn occasion which brought the schools, parents, elected officials and local residents together. “Today we are gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of…Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Brown. He went on to extoll the efforts of King in the Civil Rights Movement, starting with his support of the public transportation boycotts and the peaceful marches encouraged by King. “In January of 1986, the first national Martin Luther King Jr. Day was to be celebrated. It has since become a national day of service where people are encouraged to go out and make a difference in the lives of someone in their community,” said Brown. Anidra Ragin, a fifth grade teacher at St. Paul, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” a cappella. Following this performance, a hush fell through the gym as the St. Paul students began singing outside the gym. “Wade in the water, wade in the water, children wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the water.” Slowly and solemnly the children marched through the gym to the stage, singing the Negro spiritual which references the Hebrew exodus from Egypt and was used by Harriet Tubman to instruct escaping slaves on how to evade capture. The children stood quietly through a Martin Luther King Jr. speech, and several students performed a pantomimed dance to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song written and recorded prior to but made popular in the aftermath of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama. A student then quoted portions of Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” “You may write me down in history, with your bitter, twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I'll rise.” The children exited the same way they entered, in a solumn line singing “Wade in the Water.” Sarah Middleton introduced the speaker, Holness Samuels of the Office of Instruction and Accountability. He first drew the children into the event by asking questions regarding the Civil Rights Movement and King, giving “incentives” to those who could answer correctly. “The easy way out is always appealing,” said Samuels. “Those who take the easy way out are afraid of change, and they are afraid of challenges. Those who take the easy way out are usually relegated to the backwaters of history. They are not known. They do not achieve much. They don’t stand for anything, so they easily fall for anything. Those who take the easy road make no mark, leave no trail and are soon forgotten.” Samuels went on to discuss the ways King could have taken the easy road at each step of his journey as an activist and eventual leader within the Civil Rights Movement. “King understood the greatest use of power is the ability to show restraint,” said Samuels. He told the children about King’s accomplishments and use of his time and money to further the cause of the Civil Rights Movement. “He was certain that America would do right. So certain he mentioned he had been to the mountain top and had seen the day,” said Samuels. “He called it the promised land. He said, ‘I might not get there with you, but I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.’” Samuels recounted the death of King less than 24 hours after that speech on April 24, 1968. Samuels spoke of the steps the African American peoples have taken to go from being told they would never be citizens with rights in the 1800s to enjoying the privileges taken for granted in today’s time. However, he cautioned there is still a way to go, and the dream is not yet fully realized. “Who will follow in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Who will take the road less traveled? Who will be the next trailblazer, the next pace setter, the next pioneer?” challenged Samuels. “Do not be comforted with taking the easy road that leads to nowhere. The easy way out that says I don’t have to study. I don’t have to work hard. I can just get by. Understand that you were made to thrive, not just survive. That this means we must realize our collective efforts to do right, to do our best every day, to be the best we can. Persevere every day to give 100 percent every day. Don’t settle for being average. Remember, always to make an effort, not an excuse.” Following his speech, the Scott’s Branch Singing Eagles Concert Choir sang three short selections: a traditional Negro spiritual titled “Soon I Will be Done,” Kirk Franklin’s contemporary piece “Just Want to be Happy,” and “You Deserve It,” with a special performance by Charlesia Junious. The event closed with words from Assistant Principal Brian Smith. “I am so confident that we have a lot of young men and women who will leave here today and go out and blaze their own trails, becoming leaders in their industries. We are so proud of each one,” said Smith.

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