Standing inside the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College on Sunday, social activist and author Dorothy Bailey recalled Martin Luther King Jr.'s words resonated with her as she was preparing to "sit in" protest at North Carolina Central University in the 1960's.
"Our children, and our children's children must be told that out of the mountains of despair, we fought, we marched, we sat in, we studied, to move our people and our country toward Dr. King's vision of a beloved community" said Bailey, the keynote speaker at Howard County's 28th Commemorative Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration.
While Dr. King's words about building a new community echoed with Bailey, more than 50 years later on the eve of the Martin Luther King Day, it was her words and the words of others, framed by the program's theme of "Out of a Mountain of Despair: A Beloved Community," that resonated with the crowd of more than 200.
"It is a theme we hope captures the ongoing struggle for human equality, and the confidence that no struggle, rightly waged, is in vain," said Maureen McCann, Howard County Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission chair.
Included in the cluster of words amplifying Dr. King's vision were those penned by six local students recognized as the winners of the commission's 2012 essay contest.
According to the Ona Ichoku, the student commissioner of the essay contest, contestants were challenged to write about how a community in despair was "lifted up by the love, help and hope of others."
"I want to applaud all the students who submitted an essay," said Ichoku, a senior at Centennial High School in Ellicott City. "I wish we could commend them all with plaques."
Respectively, the first, second and third place winners in the middle school contest were Olu Roy, a sixth grader at Mount View Middle School, Jacob Fogan, an eighth grader at Hammond Middle School, and Ayan Kazi, an eighth grader at Dunloggin Middle School.
Roy, the first place winner, wrote about his personal experience watching his local Howard County community rally around one another during the blizzard of 2010.
The three winners in the high school competition were Xavier Canty, a freshman at Reservoir High School, Tia Hill, a senior at Wilde Lake High School, and Nia Crump, a sophomore at Mt. Hebron.
Canty, the first prize winner, was commended for his essay on the response to the earthquake in Haiti, something he experienced first hand by conducting a fundraiser and a shoe drive.
In addition to the students, Rabbi Susan Grossman from Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia was awarded the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. "Living the Dream" Award for her interfaith work and service to the community.
While Grossman, a New York native, isn't a lifelong community resident, her ties to the community are deeply felt and almost as deeply rooted. Grossman, who moved to Beth Shalom in 1997, began visiting Columbia as a girl in the early 1970's to spend time with her aunt, an original Columbia "pioneer."
"Dr. King would've seen the potential here and that the vision and dream was already present," Grossman said when asked what King would've thought of Columbia and Howard County. "The challenge is taking that dream and turning it into a reality."
On Monday, residents from around the county will take one more step toward doing just that by coming together to celebrate Dr. King's life with an expanded "Day of Service Across Howard County."
This year, volunteers will spend the holiday painting a home belonging to the Arc of Howard County, donating blood through the Red Cross, learning CPR, visiting residents of the Tiber Hudson Senior Apartment complex, writing letters to service members, assisting Days End Farm Horse Rescue with barn chores and volunteering at the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County.
In his remarks to the crowd on Sunday, County council member Calvin Ball likened the effort to sustain King's vision and make the dream a reality to the childhood game of "King of the Hill."
"We as a people must charge up the mountaintop of our community. ... Even though sometimes we get pushed down that mountain," Ball said as a grainy black and white image of Dr. King loomed overhead.
I think Dr. King would be proud of efforts, but we have more work to do."