Linking students to the King dream


January 19, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

Jason McCoy, principal of Cradlerock School in Columbia, opened the school's Tuesday morning program honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by opening a folder and reverently taking out a large black-and-white photograph.

"This is Dr. King, shaking my grandfather's hand," said McCoy, 38. "My grandfather worked in Pittsburgh with the civil rights movement. This is a piece of my history."

It was the classic "teachable moment."

McCoy had a similar teachable moment when he was in the third grade, after attending a King assembly in school. His grandfather, James McCoy, told him that if he could recite a portion of Dr. King's speech, he would give him a copy of the photograph. McCoy rose to the challenge. Last year, McCoy's aunt presented him with the original.

"When you have a piece of history," said McCoy, "it's priceless for a family - it connects me."

The "I Have a Dream" program at Cradlerock connects students with King and the history of the civil rights movement in a symbolic way. The program brings together the upper-school music department - chorus, band and orchestra - as well as two student speakers who divided King's speech, in a performance of Mitchell S. Bender's "I Dave a Dream" arrangement. Cradlerock has been performing the program for six years.

"Mr. McCoy wanted to continue the tradition," said Jacquelyn DeBella, music team leader and orchestra director at Cradlerock. "He felt passionate about the piece."

The piece sets King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech against a stirring backdrop of classic American songs, including "We Shall Overcome," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "My Country `tis of Thee."

"This group embodies Dr. King's dream every day," said DeBella, 32. "It's such a cultural mix of students working toward one goal." DeBella said the group had only one full run-through with all participants Friday before the three-day weekend. "We worked on it from the end of the winter concert - the second week in December. That's just about a month," she said.

This year, the program began with a multimedia retrospective on King and the civil rights movement by gifted-and-talented resource teacher Stephanie Noonan. The students sat silently watching the footage of protesters being doused by water cannons and dragged from the streets. Next, student musicians began to play the opening strains of "We Shall Overcome," and Melvin Martin, 11, of Columbia stood to deliver the first part of King's speech.

Martin and Melvin Mbah, 12, of Columbia were selected by McCoy and Assistant Principal Mark Murray to be the speakers.

"We thought it was important to highlight two students who demonstrated that essence of character Dr. King exemplified," said McCoy.

Martin says the following is his favorite section of King's speech: "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."

Mbah said he liked delivering the well-known section of the speech at the end: "Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring."

Mbah said, "When I got to the part about `free at last,' it was like a piece of Martin Luther King busted out of me."

At the close of the program, McCoy linked the students to King's dream with some brief remarks. "The dream starts with what you do for yourself," McCoy said.

McCoy singled out a student in the front row, commenting on the fact that the student was wearing a commemorative T-shirt from a King event. Later, the student, Khalil Latta, 12, of Columbia, said he had watched his mother perform in a play, Dreams Don't Have to Die.

"When he [King] said that one day we should all be friends - white children and black children - that came true," Latta said.

"It's very important that you do your part, and your part starts in school," McCoy said. "Knowledge is power, and in order to make a difference, you need an education - or no one will listen to you."

The lesson was not lost on the Martin and Mbah, who each researched King and worked on delivering his words with passion.

"I felt honored," said Mbah. "My father ... John Mbah - he was there for me every day, telling me to practice and practice, instead of going outside. `This is a commitment,' he told me. He said this was a great speech that affected everybody in the world.

"He works me hard, but I know it's for a good cause," he added.

Martin credited his mother with helping him prepare. "She practiced every day with me," he said. "She told me to keep working on it to get better."

McCoy said, "Hopefully, someone will come out [of this program] and pick Dr. King to be his or her hero today - and emulate his ideas and values. For today's youth, the definition of a hero is somewhat distorted.

"This generation - I hope they reach back. I hope they go back and study and learn about our great men and women who helped mold our country, and understand the work that still needs to be done."

Martin said: "If he [King] was standing right here and right now, he'd be proud."

"He was right near me," Mbah said. "He was in my voice."


Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? If there is, Janet Gilbert, our neighbors reporter, wants to know about it.

E-mail Janet at, or call 410-313-8276. Janet also has a Web site: www.janet

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