Martin Luther King Jr. tribute events in Berkshires give voice to civil rights icon's dream

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LENOX — Uplifting voices from the Berkshires and Baltimore honored two champions of civil rights on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Cantilena Chamber Choir's annual concert tribute to King again featured guest choir Urban Choral Arts Society for an extra special collaboration.

After the groups performed separately at Trinity Episcopal Church on Sunday, the two choirs combined to perform "Gospel Mass" in celebration of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died in October. The civil rights advocate was a Congressman who served the people from Maryland's 7th District fort 23 years.

Cummings was "a man of the people," very focused and passionate about defending the right to vote, education, ending poverty and other social issues, according to Ronald McFadden, founder and director of Urban Choral Arts Society.

The Rev. Sam Smith, pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Stockbridge, spoke to Cummings' legacy, calling him "a guardian of democracy."

"America is stronger for his looking out for our welfare," said Smith.

The minister noted Cummings was the first African American to lie in state at the rotunda in the U.S. Capitol.

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The Lenox gathering was one of three events held across the region on Sunday afternoon to honor King and his continued impact on American society.

The Second Congregational Church in Pittsfield hosted its annual community memorial service, featuring a former pastor of the church. The Rev. Leonard Comithier, pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church in Abany, N.Y., was the guest speaker. Comithier is a well-respected, nationally renowned minister who has served his congregation for more than 30 years.

In Williamstown, a panel of Williams College alumni celebrated King's legacy by speaking to their experiences engaging in social justice as it relates to the civil rights movement.

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Cantilena Chamber Choir hosted the youth-based Urban Choral Arts Society for the third year in a row — a trip that gets better each time.

"The people make the difference," McFadden said of his host to an Eagle reporter during a brief intermission.

Cantilena director Andrea Goodman add, "When you hear us sing together, it makes us both better."

This year's combined featured performance was Robert Ray's "Gospel Mass." The arrangement is a six-song interpretation of two thousand years of liturgical tradition with the more contemporary music of African American churches.

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Earlier in the program, Goodman announced the top three finishers in the local Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest.

Molly Sullivan took first prize, $500, with her essay titled "Keep Fighting."

The freshman at Mount Greylock Regional High School urged American's to fight for African Americans right to vote, equal pay for women,and ending poverty and other social, political and economic injustices.

Basically, treat everyone the same.

"Don't believe in stereotypes, everyone is unique," Sullivan said. "Deep down inside, we're all human."

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.


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