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On Monday, Jan 15th I braved the snow to trek to the Kennedy Center and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the Washington, DC community. Nolan Williams Jr. created a passionate opening act of “Rise Up and Fight”, commemorating the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer and brought many strong, proud voices that carried through the packed audience. All of the performers lit up the stage and even filled the aisles with calls to action to become involved in the voting process. To experience the performance for yourself, check out the recording from the Millenium Stage at the Neworks Productions website.

Every year I strive to learn something new and even though I have heard parts of the “I Have a Dream” speech for many years I never knew that the specific words referring to this dream were never included in the original drafts. Those specific words were an improvisational response to Singer Mahalia Jackson’s request to “tell them about the dream”. Dr. King was able to use his experience as a reverend to pull forth a passionate response that resonates to this day. 

The evening was a focal point to recognize leaders from the community who embody commitment to equity, opportunity, and racial justice. Georgetown University presented the annual John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award to Reginald L. Douglas, Artistic Director of Mosaic Theater Company of DC (Mosaic Theater). Reginald describes theater as a catalyst for conversations, community building, and for connections. His goal is to focus on the human story with a focus of moving people who are often in the margins of a community the opportunity for the spotlight and to leave the audience with thoughts even after the curtain comes down and they leave the theater.

The Kennedy Center’s Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact Marc Bamuthi Joseph filled the stage with his energy and provided a great example of why the area of social impact is beneficial to institutions. He asked the question of “why would you come to an arts center to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and he made the strong point that the arts are needed to inspire public discourse and in our personal lives. Can our democracy survive without inspiration or belief?” Last month the Kennedy Center received its first social impact endowment fund that will help to ensure that social impact is held to a standard of intent, sustainability, and discipline. 

Jordin Sparks closed out the evening with her powerful voice. Having followed her career since her audition on American Idol I was excited to be able to experience her songs in person including “Love Is a Battlefield” and “No Air“.  Inspired by the Dr. King quote “You don’t have to see the whole staircase. You just have to take the first step” she had the audience singing along with her for her rendition of ”One Step at a Time”. To close out the evening all of the performers for the evening took to the stage for a version of “The Man in the Mirror”

A full recording of this year’s program is available at The Kennedy Center’s Youtube Channel. This event is free and open to the public so we hope to see you there next year!

Final Grade: A+

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