Young choir members perform a song. (AFRO Photo/Rob Roberts)
Growing up in the South during the 1960s, Sheila Bryant saw the turmoil surrounding the Civil Rights Movement. Her family was heavily involved and the movement always been something near and dear to her heart, she said.
“We are living on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr. regardless of our race, color, or creed,” Bryant, co-chair for the 30th Annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Woodbridge, Va., told the AFRO on Jan. 19. “He brought about global peace through his passion for civil rights.”
The theme of this year’s celebration, hosted by the Prince William County Alumna Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was “The High Road of Peace and Brotherhood.”
“It represents what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for,” said Lorraine Jackson, first vice president of the Prince William Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. “He believed in unity, community, entrepreneurship and in the empowerment of the youth.”
Hundreds were in attendance at the Cecil D. Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) were among the guest speakers, award-winning violinist Daniel Davis performed, youth spoke, and the Martin Luther King Community Choir sang.
“At the time we started this program, there was no representation from African-American youth,” she said. “In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t even a holiday.”
The Youth Oratorical Contest, celebrating its 25th anniversary as a part of this program, featured middle and high school-aged orators each reflecting on what the theme, “The High Road of Peace and Brotherhood,” meant to them. This statement comes from Martin Luther King Jr.’s eulogy for the young girls killed in the Sixteenth Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. in 1963.
The young speakers from Prince William Country schools spoke about current events and issues such as the shooting of young African Americans across the country, religious extremism, the power of faith, and inequities in the justice system.
High school oratorical winner Norman Jones, a student at Stonewall Jackson High School said he planned to continue the legacy of Martin Luther King’s legacy. “We will continue in the course that changed history,” he said.
“If those same speakers came to the floor of the U.S. Senate, we might knock some sense in to some of ,” Sen. Warner said. “Sometimes it takes the thoughtfulness of the youth to shake things up.”
Brenda Lewis, a longtime member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, said she and the older generation have an obligation to the youth to include them in the struggles and the accomplishments of the African-American community.
“Martin Luther King represents the leadership, service and empowerment that we can show in our youth and our communities,” Lewis said.