“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
At a rehearsal of the Martin Luther King Jr. student choir, second-grader Markese McNairy took the microphone and auditioned for a solo part — singing in that pure treble that is celebrated and nurtured in church choirs. The Kentwood Glenwood Elementary student, who sings in the choir of New Hope Baptist Church where the students were rehearsing, put his heart into the gospel song “I’m Looking For A Miracle.”
|Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebrations
Annual Community Worship: “MLK 50: The Fierce Urgency of NOW,”
Both events are free and open to the public.
The student choir, under the direction of MLK choir co-coordinators Veruynca Williams and Tyreece Guyton, gives students a chance to engage with with King’s legacy and perform in the community. This year’s choir, 50-plus voices strong, features singers as young as 5 from school districts across the county, including Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights and Grandville.
They will sing Sunday evening in a worship service at New Hope, on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. Schools around Kent County are honoring King in other ways, in this, the 50th year since his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.
The MLK Celebration Choirs are sponsored by the GR Initiative for Leaders (GRIL), a faith-based organization created by alumni of the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative.
As Williams directed the soloists singing The Clark Sisters’ inspirational hit, she encouraged all to offer up their praise, thanks and joy.
“Yes, I want to hear your singing voice,” she exhorted the children. “Repeat after me: ‘I am a child of God. I am walking brilliance. I am blessed. I am victorious. I am thankful for the magic of Dr. King.’”
The Chimes of Freedom
The students Williams directed sang with the powerful spirit of Dr. King’s prophetic words: “When we allow freedom to ring … we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing …. ‘free at last!’”
The MLK children’s choir is the highlight of the celebration for Grandville High School English teacher Sheri Gilreath-Watts. “The diversity is always beautiful!” she said.
Gilreath-Watts helps with the choir and recruits her students to participate.
“Singing is a wonderful way for kids who are not exposed to gospel music to participate in this kind of fellowshipping,” she said.
For Grandville High School sophomore Betsy Davis, King’s hopes for equality and human rights for all comes to mind. “It’s kind of weird to think that it hasn’t always been this way,” Betsy said.
Brothers Richard “Isaac” and Michael Gordon, both sophomores at Grand Rapids’ Innovation Central High School, applaud King’s nonviolent protest of racism. “I’m respecting on Dr. King in a serious amount of ways,” Michael said.
North Godwin Elementary School kindergartner Kamryn Jeffery said simply, “I like him.”
Assistant director Carmen Smith walked students through Lonnie Hunter’s “Even Me,” their young voices soared, but Smith noticed the soprano volume sounded low.
“C’mon, let me hear you, sopranos,” Smith called out. “Yes, yes, alright, let’s do it once more. Listen to me and when I go up, you go up: ‘Rain on me, shine on me.’”
At rehearsal’s end, Gilreath-Watts’ son, Ike, a 2016 Grandville graduate and Grand Rapids Community College student, hoped the celebration will be an inspiring testament to King’s message.
“We’re living his dream,” said Ike, a student choir member most of his life. “He wanted us all to be united, together singing, praising God — all of us created in his image.”