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Music, poetry and a 'Dream'

King's words have new meaning this year, speaker at diversity celebration says

King's words have new meaning this year, speaker at diversity celebration says

January 19, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Before beginning his annual rendition of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at Hagerstown Community College's Martin Luther King Jr. Diversity Celebration Monday, the Rev. Darin Mency warned the audience he might get a little emotional.

Knowing that the country was 24 hours away from swearing in its first black president gave King's words new meaning this year, Mency said after the program.

"It made it hard to go forward because I was forward-thinking of different parts," he said.

For example, one passage in the speech says, "We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote."

"Now, that's not the case," Mency said.

Tuesday's inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama is a sign of the progress that has been made toward King's dream of equal opportunity, said Guy Altieri, president of Hagerstown Community College.

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"(Obama's) election was based upon both his extreme talents and the fact that most Americans now embrace the value of equality of opportunity, and the belief that a person's talents, values and ideas are central to leadership, and that the color of one's skin does not determine one's destiny," Altieri said, to murmurs of "Yes!" from the audience.

In its sixth year, the diversity celebration event took the form of a variety show, with musical performances, poetry readings and a video leading up to the "I Have a Dream" speech. Performers included The Greater Campher Temple Gospel Choir, keyboardist Zachary Worthy, a dancer from the HCC Step Team, poet Larry Ryan, and singers Natalie and Nathan Stephenson. In addition, HCC faculty member Joan Johnson gave a presentation about poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, and a video was shown of 10-year-old oratory competition winner Dalton Sherman of Dallas speaking to a group of educators at a back-to-school event.

Limited funding this year forced the college to eliminate its traditional luncheon, so organizers decided to shift to a variety show format instead of holding a series of discussions, as in previous years, said Ellen Smith, co-chair of the college's Multicultural Committee.

Despite snow falling heavily in Hagerstown as the event began, many of the Kepler Theater's seats were filled.

"I think it was a terrific crowd, considering the weather," Altieri said. "It just goes to show you how important the topic was to people."

One of those who braved the weather to attend the event was Thoko Alleman of Hagerstown, who brought her sons, Derek, 10, and Dominick, 15.

"With my kids getting older, I thought it would be educational for them," she said. "With the inauguration, it just kind of seemed like the right moment."

Mency said he is not sure whether he will continue giving the speech in future years.

"I'm thinking about trying to pass the baton," he said.

Mency said he enjoys the event and would like to see it continue, but would like to see someone younger give the speech a try.

Audience members said his would be a hard act to top.

"He sounds so real, just like King," said Marion Mitchell of Hagerstown, who said she attends the program each year to hear Mency's rendition of the speech.

Mitchell brought her grandchildren, Deandre, 12, and Alondra, 9, whom she also was planning to take to Obama's inauguration.

"They're living the dream," she said. "We all are."

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