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MLK Jr. Day celebrated with service and song in Westminster

Carroll Community College and the Carroll Arts Center sponsor a musical tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. performed by artist Lea, that features songs of the Civil Rights Movement Monday afternoon in Westminster.
Carroll Community College and the Carroll Arts Center sponsor a musical tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. performed by artist Lea, that features songs of the Civil Rights Movement Monday afternoon in Westminster. (Doug Kapustin/Carroll County Times)

As the nation took a day to remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., many of the events in Carroll County focused on volunteer service.

In the morning, McDaniel College students spread across Westminster partnering with local nonprofits and faith communities. In the afternoon, a musical performance paid tribute to King’s legacy.

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At Union Street Methodist Church, students and trustees of the church teamed up to put a fresh coat of paint in the upstairs multipurpose room of the church, which celebrated its 150th birthday just a few years prior.

For Walter “Pete” Groomes, a trustee of the church, it wasn’t the first time he had lent his wall-painting skills to the church. In the heavy rain that marked the summer of 2018, part of the ceiling in the sanctuary fell and the plaster walls were also damaged. It happened just a few minutes after services concluded, and they were thankful that no one was hurt said Rick Moody, a fellow trustee who was at the church Monday morning. Once the structural repairs finished, Groomes did much of the painting in the room.

Having grown up on Union Street, the church has been a part of life for Groomes’ family for generations. He said he does what he can — caring for the outside of the building, playing drums with the choir, serving as a trustee — to recognize the blessings he has found through the church. On Monday, he said it was also a blessing to have the students to help with the painting of the multipurpose room.

Soon, they hope to hold Sunday School there, Moody said.

McDaniel College students help paint the upstairs multipurpose room at Union Street Methodist Church Jan. 20, 2020.
McDaniel College students help paint the upstairs multipurpose room at Union Street Methodist Church Jan. 20, 2020. (Courtesy Photo / McDaniel College)

Downstairs in the church, students wrapped packs of diapers for CarrollBaby, an organization that distributes diapers and hygiene items to Title 1 schools, The Carroll County Family Support Center and Catholic Charities Head Start. The students wrapped 2,000 diapers, which will provide for about 50 families, Director Lauren Bukszar said. More information is available at www.carrollbaby.org.

Others filled plastic eggs with candy for the city of Westminster’s annual egg hunt for kids in the community. This year it is scheduled for April. A plastic bag filled gradually with hundreds of eggs as students finished up their painting and moved downstairs.

One group of students joined the soup kitchen of Westminster United Methodist Church on East Main Street for the morning. Another set to cleaning and assisting the Human Services Programs (HSP) at their Cold Weather Shelter.

McDaniel College freshmen Jessica Kam and Lilly Figueroa clean mats at the Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020.
McDaniel College freshmen Jessica Kam and Lilly Figueroa clean mats at the Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. (Courtesy Photo / McDaniel College)

About 25 students from those on campus for the college’s January term joined the day of service. Katie Trembley, community engagement liaison for McDaniel, said the students were not earning credit hours. “They’re all here because it’s important to them," she said.

Some of those McDaniel volunteers could be found later at a performance at the Carroll Arts Center. LEA, a DC-based performer who describes her self as “singer, songwriter, parent, teacher and perpetual student,” brought her “Lift Every Voice: Songs of the Civil Rights Movement” performance to the Carroll stage.

It opened with her voice a capella as she sang a portion of “My Country, 'Tis of Thee.” It is the song King himself quotes in his “I Have a Dream” address, looking ahead to “when all of God’s children” can “sing with new meaning.”

Carroll Community College and the Carroll Arts Center sponsor a musical tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. performed by artist Lea, that features songs of the Civil Rights Movement Monday afternoon in Westminster.
Carroll Community College and the Carroll Arts Center sponsor a musical tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. performed by artist Lea, that features songs of the Civil Rights Movement Monday afternoon in Westminster. (Doug Kapustin/Carroll County Times)

“Lift Every Voice” is built like a collage of songs with each lending layered meanings to the others as they are played together. In between, LEA gives the audience bits of context and history.

“I on some level [strive] to make it a story, specifically about the African American experience, from slavery to the broader perspective of the civil rights movement, and literally going chronologically from the spirituals, to the songs of the ’60s and ’70s, into the new ones that are being written now,” she said in an interview after the show.

She said to the audience that came out on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, “The work is far from done, the dream is far from realized. But we’d be remiss not to recognize how far we’ve come.”

That’s one reason she chooses to finish the show with contemporary songs, she said afterward.

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“[King] has passed away but his dream continues,” she said. “We each have a role to play [in] the continuation of the civil rights movement. Whatever happens in this country, it’s on us now. I think that’s as important a message, to take personal responsibility rather than constantly look back, or look to some other figure, because you know, he has done his work.”

The day was a volunteer appreciation day for the Arts Center, meaning those who volunteered — not just in Westminster, but wherever their home community might be — revived free admission thanks to a sponsorship by Carroll Community College.

LEA was joined onstage by Kristen Jones on cello and vocals and Heather Lloyd on percussion and vocals. The musicians encouraged the audience to sing along.

“The power and the meaning is most present when we sing together,” LEA told the audience, which stood as one an ovation at the end of the show.

For those that missed the performance, information about upcoming shows is available at her website, www.thisislea.com.

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