Black history tribute finds right mix of words, music

February 25, 2003

Owen Brown Middle School celebrated Black History Month on Feb. 11 with a recitation of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, accompanied by the school's Puma Band, gospel singer Natalie Creditt and sixth-grade teacher Steve Schaefer.

"It just supported the words so dramatically," said band director Belinda King, who organized the production. "It was phenomenal. I'm still getting people stopping me in the hallways."

The 45-minute morning assembly began with a PowerPoint presentation about the civil rights movement, King said. Created by a group of sixth-graders under the direction of Gifted and Talent Program resource teacher Cara Cassell, the presentation was broadcast on monitors around the lunchroom.

"Then Cara put on two CDs for background music. The very last thing that was on this PowerPoint was a picture of Dr. King. When that came up, I raised my hand and we started our piece. Then the band started," the band director said.

Montgomery County pupil Andrew Williams, 12, recited the speech; Creditt sang most of the musical piece that accompanied Andrew. It included "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "We Shall Overcome," "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "America" and ended with "Amazing Grace." Schaefer sang "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."

"Middle schools don't do things like this, where you have to follow the person doing the speech. That's a very, very advanced level of performance," King said. "I wanted it to be very serious, very thought-provoking and very respectful. So the kids wore their band uniforms, black and white with cummerbunds and ties, which they normally do not wear for assemblies.

"In the morning announcements, I made a little tiny speech to the effect that the kids should ponder and listen to the words King said because he was not speaking about the black community [only]; he was speaking about all of humanity. We had kids in the audience who were crying. It was wonderful. I think everybody left sort of taken back by the message."

Creditt, whose granddaughter is Owen Brown seventh-grader Naytasha Rayside, was recruited to sing at the 11th hour, the band director said. A soloist with the All Saints Choir in Baltimore, Creditt has sung at the Meyerhoff and the Kennedy Center, on Maryland Public Television and in London, Paris and Hawaii, she said. She lives in Owen Brown with her mother, Ethel Mickey, her daughter, Tonya Brown Rayside, and her granddaughter.

"It was a beautiful concert. And it was fun, and they did an excellent job," Creditt said.

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