Annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute at Columbus’ Veterans Memorial

Listen to the Story

“Celebrate the Legacy: A Voice in The Crowd” is the name for this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr., observance at Veterans Memorial.

This is the 12th year that the program has been under the capable direction of producer Dan Willis.

“Okay what we’re going to do tonight is we’re going to run through the scenes Okay in the first scene you guys are going to be over here…”

During a rehearsal last week Willis worked with Eastmoor high school students who make up the majority of the cast of Scene One.

“The first scene that we have that we’re going to have at Vets Memorial is going to be a church scene,” Willis said. “You’ll also have a fan like they have in church sometimes so you’ll fan as if it’s hot. And when you sit down start fanning yourself “

The players fan themselves and listen to the soaring words of Dr. King. Past programs have used excerpts from King’s most famous speeches. But Willis says the content of this year’s program may not be as familiar to the audience.

“Two-thirds of each scene are exact Dr. King’s words,” Willis says. “And what we did is we went and we found sermons and speeches that he gave that are seldom heard speeches. So they are not the “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s his American dream speech; speeches that he gave in Manhattan, speeches that he gave at Ebenezer Church. And of the three scenes that we have, the first thing he talks about is social justice.”

Here Derrick Collins portrays Doctor King:

“I hope to one day address an American community of sisters and brothers. When Mrs. King and I visited Jamaica, it impressed me that people with so many national backgrounds have one motto: Out of many people, one people “

This year’s production is a mix of the dramatic and entertainment Willis says. In one scene, Ballet Met performs and there are other performances by several choirs. “Celebrate the Legacy: A Voice in the Crowd” focuses on three facets of Martin Luther King Junior’s work.

“One section that we’re talking about this year has to do with war. And if you take out Vietnam you can put in any country that’s in the news tonight. And it’s just as truthful today as it was 45 years ago. And the students – when they see this awareness – are amazed at the insight that Dr. King had in not just Civil Rights, but social justice and peace-making. And so this year we’re focusing on those three areas – as a peacemaker, as a social justice champion and as a Civil Rights leader,” says Willis.

In another part of scene one, Toni Tinsley evokes the historic Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March of 1965.

“While walking I was asked if I wanted a ride, I answered “No.” Then the person said, “Well aren’t you tired?’ And I said, “I’m not marching for myself, I’m marching for my grandchildren. My feet, they are tired, but my soul is rested.”

“Dr. King was passionate about peaceful demonstrations,” Willis says. “Well if kids don’t know that you can have a peaceful demonstration that can change the world dramatically they may make the wrong choice. So by example we show the way you can effect change in your community and hopefully instill in their minds that before they take an action maybe there’s another way of doing it that might be more profitable.”

Willis says the celebration is educational not only for the audience but for many of the actors.

“Dr. King’s words are over 40 years old. And a lot of the kids these days he was assassinated long before they were even thought of,” says Willis.

Dan Willis is director of Celebrate The Legacy: A Voice in the Crowd. The program begins at 6 p.m. at Veterans Memorial in Columbus. Tickets to the performance are free.

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