Gettysburg College Holds 37th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
By Jeremy Porter ’20, Staff Writer
“Powerful.” “Goosebumps.” “United.” These were some of the words used by Gettysburg students who attended the college’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Monday when asked to describe the event and its impact on them. This year marks the 37th in which students and community members alike gathered to discuss and pay tribute to the civil rights leader and his creeds.
The night commenced with the singing of the processional “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by the Morgan State University Choir, one of the nation’s most acclaimed collegiate choral ensembles. Music would continue to play an important role throughout the ceremony; following the invocation by The Reverend Dr. Joseph Donnella, college chaplain, the Morgan State choir performed a few more powerful tunes and received standing ovations. One of them, “Glory,” is the theme song from the movie Selma, which is based on the 1965 voting rights marches in Alabama of which Martin Luther King Jr. himself was a leader. Another, “We Shall Overcome,” began as a simple gospel hymn and eventually came to represent the Civil Rights movement, having been sung in the crowds at the March on Washington in 1963. This song was performed at the end of the evening, with the entire congregation eventually joining in while standing hand in hand.
Later in the evening, the Chamber Chorale of the Gettysburg Children’s Choir, under the direction of Dr. Brent Talbot, sang two songs of their own: “Dream Keeper,” based on a Langston Hughes Poem, and “All Good People,” written as a response to the tragic shooting at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. All the night’s music seemed to return to a theme appropriate for a tribute to MLK: remembering struggles of the past while holding out hope for a better future.
One of the most important parts of the celebration each year is the presentation of the “Living the Dream” award. This award, sponsored by the YWCA Gettysburg and the United Way of Adams County, honors a local resident who dutifully serves his/her community and embodies the selflessness and compassion exhibited by Martin Luther King Jr.
This year’s recipient is Adrienne Camel, a Gettysburgian born and bred who has worked at the South Central Community Action Programs Inc., (SCCAP) for 16 years providing low-income citizens with educational and career opportunities. Adrienne’s daughter accepted the award on her behalf. The award presentation was followed by the recognition of two Adams County Career Aid Project (ACCAP) recipients and their achievements. The ACCAP, an initiative of SCCAP and the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, provides underprivileged students with the financial means necessary to pursue a collegiate education.
The first recipient recognized was Champella Harman of Philadelphia. After discovering that she could not afford to simultaneously continue her education at Delaware Valley Community College and enroll her young son in daycare, she came to Gettysburg. The SCCAP not only provided her with money for daycare, but introduced her to the MLK Celebration Committee that would end up raising money for Champella to continue her degree at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). Champella expressed her gratitude to the committee in a short speech. Josh McCray, the second recipient, graduated cum laude from Shippensburg University after receiving the proper funds to attend. He could not make it to the ceremony due to inclement weather conditions.
This year’s keynote speaker at the celebration was Troy Datcher ’90. He is the Vice President of Sales and Sports Marketing for the Clorox Company, leads the company’s African Americans Building Leadership Excellence resource group, and was recently named to Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 list. He is also on the Gettysburg College Board of Trustees.
Datcher began his speech by explaining why he thought Martin Luther King Jr. was able to connect with people on such a wide scale. King, he explained, was neither wealthy nor privileged and had even landed in jail during his Birmingham campaign. African-Americans everywhere recognized that King deeply understood and sympathized with their ongoing struggle – King himself could not be removed from it – and that he would not stop fighting and dreaming big until tangible changes were made for their community. Datcher encouraged the congregation to address problems we face in our community and do something about them, citing King’s quote “an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” He also emphasized the power of understanding opposing viewpoints and learning from them.
In conjunction to the Gettysburg College campaign, Datcher invited everyone to use the hashtag #dogreatworkMLK2017 on Twitter to share their good deeds and promote activism between now and next year’s celebration.
While this April will mark the 49th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, the infectious feelings of optimism and hope that permeated the chapel Monday night served as proof to the staying power of King’s legacy.