For the 22nd year in a row, the city of College Park will celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday with a tribute at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.
The tribute, which runs from 2 to 4 p.m., is organized by the College Park committee for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The afternoon includes a series of musical performances, art exhibits and speakers with one common goal; to honor King’s life and teachings. And similar to years past, this weekend’s tribute includes contributions from some of the community’s youngest members.
“It is primarily intended to expose schoolchildren to Dr. King’s philosophy; his work as a civil rights activist ... as a human rights activist,” says College Park City Council member Monroe Dennis (Dist. 2), a member of the tribute’s planning committee.
Among this year’s performers are the singers from the College Park Youth Choir, as well as students from the Friends Community School, who will participate in a visual arts display and musical performance. This is the fourth year the school has participated in the tribute and art teacher Donna Jonte says the event is a great way for the school and its students to remain connected to the community.
“We really value our connection with the city of College Park and with the University of Maryland,” Jonte says. “We’re honored to be invited to participate in this and strengthen our relationship with the community.”
For the 2013 tribute, contributors were asked to create their submissions around the theme, “Promises to Keep, A Dream to Realize,” a concept from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the overarching theme for Saturday’s program.
“We establish or select a theme each year and then we ask local schools in the city to do artistic displays of Dr. King and their concepts of his beliefs and how he’s affected their lives,” Dennis says.
For the students at Friends Community School, creating artwork reflecting King’s message is nothing out of the ordinary — it’s what they do all year long.
A Quaker school, Friends Community focuses on principles called Quaker SPICES — Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship — many of the same principles taught by King.
“The students know enough about Martin Luther King that they are ready to enter that discussion,” Jonte says. “He is not a new name to the students at this school.”
Jonte says teachers at the Friends Community School try to integrate the arts into their lessons as often as they can, in addition to following Quaker practices. For Saturday’s tribute, Jonte’s third- and fourth-grade students have created prints using adinkra stamps. Deriving from West Africa, the stamps often are used on fabric to create symbols representing concepts. Jonte’s students studied the region in both their art and music classes this year, and even wore fabric with adinkra symbols during their holiday concert, when they sang some traditional West African songs.
For the tribute, the students used adinkra stamps to create symbols representing what they consider to be their “Words to Live By.” Some of the statements include messages like “Compassion brings agreement,” and “Let’s hold hands.”
Jonte says the art project has allowed students to “understand the Quaker message and Martin Luther King Jr. in a global context.”
“They’re [also] making connections to their own lives,” Jonte says.
Friends Community School students also will perform songs at the tribute, including “This Land is Your Land” and “Salaam Alaikam,” an Arabic greeting meaning “Peace be unto you.”
Dennis, who has helped plan the tribute for eight years, says art seems to be the key to getting local schoolchildren interested and excited about the tribute.
“In the past ... we’ve asked [students] to write a short essay about Dr. King,” Dennis says. “ ... It has turned out that fewer children are comfortable writing essays than those who feel comfortable sitting down and drawing and doing their artwork.”
According to Dennis, the arts play an important role in helping the younger generation achieve King’s mission.
“The artwork lends itself to groups of children getting together and blending their individual concepts.”