A Song Full of Hope

Music and fellowship mark Southern Dutchess Coalition’s MLK celebration

By Sommer Hixson

“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us.”

These words from the hymn, Lift Every Voice and Sing, written in 1900 by the brothers James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, epitomize Monday’s events in Beacon to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. From the morning parade on Main Street through the inspiring service that followed at Springfield Baptist Church, the air was filled with singing.

From left, Gloria Edwards, parishioner, Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church; center, Minister Sam Perry, Springfield Baptist Church; right, Linda Terry, Deaconess and Trustee, Springfield Baptist Church Photo by S. Hixson
From left, Gloria Edwards, parishioner, Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church; center, Minister Sam Perry, Springfield Baptist Church; right, Linda Terry, Deaconess and Trustee, Springfield Baptist Church
Photo by S. Hixson

The event was the Southern Dutchess Coalition’s 36th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration, with a theme of “What Would Martin Do?” that will carry the organization’s mission through 2014.

At the wish of Pete Seeger and with support from the Beacon Sloop Club, the celebration expanded this year with a first-ever musical parade on Main Street that led to the church doors for lunch and an afternoon service. Several of Beacon’s religious organizations helped with planning, including St. Andrews Episcopal Church, St. James A.M.E. Zion Church, St. Joachim/St. John Parish, Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church, UpperRoom Pentecostal Ministries, Faith Temple C.O.G.I.C., and By God’s Grace Ministries.

This is also the first year the coalition partnered with the Beacon Hebrew Alliance. Michael Gersch blew the shofar, a musical instrument made from animal horn, to begin the service. Rabbi Brent Spodek shared excerpts from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s introduction from 1968 of King to the Rabbinical Assembly. “The whole future of America will depend on the impact and influence of Dr. King,” he read. “I call upon everyone to harken to his voice, to share his vision.”

Continuing MLK’s work

“I pray that we come together to continue his work,” Spodek added, in his own words. “There are still people struggling mightily in this town, in this country, on this planet to make ends meet and put food on the table. There are people who are still killed for simply being who they are.”

Photo by Kate Vikstrom
Photo by Kate Vikstrom

Presiding Pastor Edward Benson, from New Vision Church of Deliverance in Fishkill, a guest for the day, echoed Spodek’s remarks. Citing budget cuts in Medicaid, the city’s high dropout rate and “education vs. incarceration,” he reminded the congregation, “The struggle is far from over.”

The Beacon Sloop Club, with Bonnie Champion as chairperson and Pastor Benson, organized a citywide essay contest for young students themed “The Time Is Always Right To Do,” based on a statement in King’s 1964 “Future of Integration” address at Oberlin College. Six finalists, three girls and three boys, all from Glenham Elementary, were awarded citations during the service.

The SDC Massed Choir, under the direction of Sharlene Stout and this year’s Minister of Music, Laura Elaine Hunter, performed several musical selections that roused parishioners and guests from their seats throughout the day. The James Brown Family Performing Arts Center (JBFPAC) Ensemble presented A Meeting in the Garden, a short skit Howard University graduate Cezar Remon wrote in honor of Nelson Mandela that imagines Malcom X, Dr. King and Mandela talking together.

Photo by Kate Vikstrom
Photo by Kate Vikstrom

Newly elected Beacon City Councilman Ali T. Muhammad attended the parade and service along with Mayor Randy Casale, Sen. Terry Gipson, and other city council members. “The SDC has passed the signs of time and, after 36 years of hosting this commemoration for Dr. King, have not missed a beat,” said Muhammad. “What Martin Luther King Jr. stood for represented more than himself or a specific race. Seeing such a diverse gathering on Monday was phenomenal, a true account of our amazing city,” he added.

Tajionna, 11, from Poughkeepsie, and Mia, 11, Jordana, 12, and Aaliyah, 11, from Beacon, expressed in an interview what the civil rights movement and Dr. King means to them 50 years later.

“We can all live together now, meet new people, and love each other for who we are,” said Tajionna.

“We wouldn’t be able to have black friends with white friends,” said Mia.

“We wouldn’t all be here together today if it weren’t for him,” Jordanna said.

“Life is good because of Dr. King,” added Aaliyah.