The lessons and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to life through music, dance and words Monday at Laurel Park Middle School.
About 100 to 150 people attended the memorial program held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
It included a step performance by Bassett High School students, music by The Patriot Players, storyteller Fred Motley and motivational speaker Philip Echols.
“I enjoyed the connection they all made of unity and still living the dream,” said Mervin Brown Jr., president of the Martin Luther King Jr. planning council. “Mr. Echols brought home so many ideas of character, everything tied into our theme of remembering Dr. King, and the kids loved it. It was something different with the storytelling and the step team and how Mr. Echols brought (the children) up on stage. It took (the children) back but still kept them in today.”
The Icebreaker Step Club, formed under the umbrella of the Minority Student Alliance at Bassett High School, featured seven girls and a variety of background music in the opening performance Monday afternoon.
The club is a Virginia State Championship regional qualifier for step team competition and will perform in Harlem, New York, during its spring break in April.
The Patriot Players, a performing arts troupe based at Patrick Henry Community College, presented three performances. Erica Becker offered a vocal rendition of “Home” from the musical “The Wiz.”
Becker also has shared her acting talents with the community, playing the role of Missy Judson in “Purlie the Musical.” She will return to the stage, this time as Armelia, when “Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show” opens Feb. 13 at PHCC’s Walker Fine Arts Center.
Vee Hairston, also part of the cast of “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” performed “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now,” which is featured in “Ain’t Misbehavin.’”
Brandon Martin, musical director of The Patriot Players, closed out the troupe’s performances with an acoustic rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic “Change is Gonna Come,” which was described as a civil rights movement anthem.
Motley, of Danville, told a pair of stories that taught lessons while they entertained. He used a variety of voices for each of the characters involved in his stories, while supplying sound effects and a constant musical tune.
Echols returned to his alma mater Monday when he closed the program at Laurel Park, formerly a high school. Echols, who grew up in Martinsville and is the son of the Rev. Thurman Echols of Axton, said he was excited to bring home one of his programs.
“It was a great event, the kids were great — very enthusiastic,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen the school. It’s good to come home and see that tradition is still being kept and things are moving in a positive direction.”
Echols gave the younger members of the crowd some context for King’s “I Have A Dream” speech by quizzing them on the technology of 1963, while also passing along lessons of character and of King’s work.
Echols, who now lives in Raleigh, has made a career of motivational speaking after receiving a master’s degree in counseling from Virginia Tech.
“It’s always good to give back, especially to the community that helped make me who I am,” he said. “It’s very helpful to be able to give to a community I feel like needs as many people pitching in as possible. It’s always a great thing and an honor for me to be able to come home and give back to the community.”
He closed his speech, and the program, with a reminder that seemed to be from the mouth of King himself. “Exceptional people come from ordinary places,” Echols said, “and ordinary people often do extraordinary things.”
Chad Martin served as host for the program.