As mass shootings outnumbered days at one point last year, Allison Alston and her classmates at Reservoir High School joined the student activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and others around the country in a student walkout to protest gun violence.
The Howard County junior knew it wouldn’t immediately put an end to the epidemic of killings. Some observers might even roll their eyes at their efforts.
But remaining silent was “not an option,” Alston wrote in her essay, “Walking Out to Walk Forward,” which won the county’s 2018-2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. high school student essay contest on Sunday. Reading an excerpt, she compared the student movement to the civil rights movement King led in the 1960s.
“Especially during such a trying time for people of color, being patient and peaceful must not have been easy, but it did stir change,” Alston read. “Likewise the walkout and other peaceful forms of protest might not be the quickest way to see results we would like to see, but it is surely more effective than remaining voiceless.”
Howard County’s annual commemoration of King’s legacy at Howard High School on Sunday featured student singing and dance performances, awards and a variety of speeches and entertainment in anticipation of Monday’s day of service in his honor.
The Rev. Sandra Trice Gray, the first black teacher at Henderson Junior High School in Little Rock, Ark., during desegregation in 1965 and now the pastor at the Columbia Baptist Fellowship, was awarded the county’s individual “Living the Dream” Award, which recognizes those who promote King’s teachings and legacy.
“Stay true to listening to that still small voice and following it regardless of what other people think,” Gray urged those in attendance. “It makes a big difference in one’s life. I’m grateful that I’m connected to the God presence within me.”
The Rev. Gay Green-Carden, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Jessup, accepted the the “Living the Dream” award for an organization.
“From the earth-shattering floods in Ellicott City to the jubilant church in Jessup, Maryland, we will continue to let freedom ring,” she said.
Calvin Ball, the county’s first black county executive, said the county should treat Martin Luther King Day not just as another three-day weekend, but as a chance to harness its wealth and power to change the lives of the poor and disenfranchised.
A Day of Service is planned for Monday, beginning at 8 a.m. at the Community Resources Campus, 9820 Patuxent Woods Drive in Columbia.
“We live in challenging and controversial times, and I call upon you to stand with me as we all reinvest ourselves to be even more courageous, to do a little bit more, because these are the times that demand it,” Ball said. “As we celebrate, look to this day as the first day that we do even more for everyone.”
The student performances and essay award winners elicited loud applause in the auditorium again and again.
Ava Gilreath sang the national anthem. Howard High students Simisola Liadi and Simon Guteng, a vocal-and-cello duet, performed a haunting version of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” as well as a traditional Nigerian song. Young dancers from the Gina Ling Chinese Dance Chamber fluttered around the stage like flower petals in the wind in “The Reflections of Lotus.”
Sixth-graders swept the middle school essay contest. Nehemiah Lewis of Harper’s Choice Middle won first place, Teniola Taiwo of Murray Hill Middle won second and Reema Ayache of Clarksville Middle took third.
Chimmuanya Iheanyi-Igwe, a senior at Howard High, won second place in the high school competition; and Amen Owusu of Wilde Lake High was third.
Members of the League of Korean Americans of Howard County donned brightly colored hanbok dresses and glided in circles across the stage to traditional music.
Barbara Sands, administrator of the Howard County Office of Human Rights, pointed out the diversity of the performances and the county at large, and stressed the importance of society working together across divides of race, class, religion and other differences.
“We all must work together to solve the problems and build strong relationships and explore important issues that affect all of us,” Sands said. “There are all kinds of problems that are going on in the world today, and it’s up to you and to me to make a difference. … That’s the only way we can overcome.”
As she spoke, the dozens of performers slowly rose and began to sing as they walked to the stage. Those onstage and in the audience joined hands and closed the ceremony with the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”