ROCKVILLE – The modern-day dream was the theme as performances and presentations honored slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday at a 45th annual celebration.
The event, held at Richard Montgomery, included dance, musical performances, poetry by students and an adult community member, awards and a keynote speech.
The tribute began with a procession consisting of West African choreography performed by dancers from Katherine Smith Contemporary Dance Ensemble, which is based in Prince George’s County. The dancers went up the aisles toward the stage in vibrant costumes. A drum group called Soul in Motion led the procession and accompanied the dancers on African drums.
The poem was called “I am Not My Skin Tone.”
After the poetry reading, a group of girls from the Katherine Smith Contemporary Dance Ensemble, wearing what Smith described as “flesh-tone” skirts, performed a contemporary dance.
Between 300 and 400 people attended the event, the most being present for keynote speaker Gregory Bell’s presentation.
Bell, supervisor of diversity initiatives for Montgomery County Public Schools, said King’s “I Have a Dream” speech continues to resonate and explained that working together to provide all people with access to opportunities is a way to make that happen.
All eyes were on Bell a few minutes into his speech when he asked the audience members three questions, instructing them to clap if a statement applied to them. He asked audience members if they had been mistreated, if they had been misunderstood and if they had been “quietly disrespected.” Audience members obliged.
“We want to eliminate the claps,” Bell said.
He said it starts at home when we learn to treat others as we want to be treated.
Then he shared an anecdote from when he was 7 years old in which his parents told him they were taking him and his siblings to participate in the March on Washington.
He addressed students in the audience repeatedly throughout his speech, encouraging them to work hard inside and outside school. He taught them an acronym, FAITH, “Finding answers in the heart.”
He called a group of students onstage for a demonstration. Each student held a letter, together spelling the word “culture.” He had the audience add the number of each letter of the alphabet, starting with the number 3 since “C” is third in the alphabet. The numbers together added up to 100.
He said the letters in the word “excellent” add up to 100, but the letters in “good” add up to 41.
“Despite what happens Jan. 20, our culture of students will be excellent, not good,” Bell said.
He returned to the modern-day dream.
“I take this personal. That’s also 100 points,” Bell said. “But as Dr. Martin Luther King in his modernday dream believed that we as people can make a difference in our community, the City of Rockville, you’re doing that.”
The audience members filled the room with applause.
Rockville High School senior Amina Mohamed received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Award for advancing King’s goals through her leadership in her school. Her work includes spurring 70 students to involvement in the school’s Key Club, which engages in social service activities such as collecting hundreds of dollars for UNICEF. She also worked to bring together students of diverse races and religions and organized a school blood drive.
Mohamed said she was happy to receive the award.
“Getting nominated for continuing his dream means a lot,” Mohamed said.
She said her way of living the modern-day dream is to pursue a college degree and then continue to serve her community through her career.
Virginia native Kimberly Gordon sang “Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha” in the celebration.
She told a Sentinel reporter she had sent some demo recordings of her singing to event organizers, including “Impossible Dream.” When she was considering songs to sing, she remembered the song and decided it was fitting for the occasion.
Rodja Williams, 63, said the way black students were treated in Montgomery County Public Schools has changed since she first attended. She said she was the first black girl to attend Maryvale Elementary School and graduated from Rockville.
She described the celebration as “exciting” and “energizing” but less so as compared with the 2015 celebration because there were fewer opportunities for the audience to stand up and dance.
King’s dream has not been reached in the U.S., she said. She has hope that King’s dream will be made manifest in the relatively near future, but believes it will occur during the lifetime of a generation after hers.
“We still have a long way to go,” Williams said.