Sunday night, Georgetown University in collaboration with the Kennedy Center hosted the 11th annual Let Freedom Ring Celebration.
The evening sought to capture through song the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and celebrated the efforts of those individuals who continue his work and keep his spirit alive today.
The music program of the event was heavily influenced by Dr. King’s work and, this year especially, a Letter from Birmingham Jail. “During the summer months immediately following the celebration I actually spend that time in study, looking at videos and books and sometimes going though old speeches of Dr. King just to see how I can be inspired to approach this celebration from a new vantage point,” said Reverend Nolan Williams Jr., Let Freedom Ring’s 10-time musical director. “This year last year as I was preparing I was really struck by King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, and you hear things echoed from that throughout this program.”
Throughout the evening, several individuals who embody and live the dream of Dr. King received recognition, including Georgetown’s own Men’s Basketball Head Coach John Thompson III. “You don’t want young people to think the sum total of their lives was nine or eight pounds of air in a basketball,” Thompson said. “I think it’s more important in life for those kids when they leave here they use the good education they got here at Georgetown.”
His words prompted a hearty “amen” from the crowd.
The star of the evening, however, was Mary Brown, co-founder and executive director of Life Pieces to Masterpieces, an organization dedicated to the education of African American youth in the District of Columbia. Since 1996, Brown’s program has enrolled over a thousand children and young adults. Her work has been so effective that, since 2006, 100 percent of Brown’s students have graduated high school and gone on to college, the workforce, or the military.
In recognition of her work, Brown received the Legacy of a Dream Award, given to an individual that reflects Dr. King’s life and spirit. “Through her life’s work Mary Brown has made a profound impact on the lives of boys and young men facing great adversity and challenging circumstances right here in the District of Colombia,” said President Jack DeGioia. “Empowerment through character building defines the work of both John Thompson and Mary Brown.”
Brown reflected on forces that prompt people like her to enter public service. “People that do this work, it is not about power, it’s definitely nor about recognition,” Brown said. “You do it because it is the right thing to do, and you do it because it feels good.”
The evening culminated in an electric performance from R&B artist Smokey Robinson accompanied by the Let Freedom Ring Choir. Smokey, himself a veteran of the civil rights movement, applauded Brown’s work and King’s legacy, assuring those in attendance that, even in times of adversity:
Love is here standing by
Love is here standing by
Photo courtesy Georgetown University