By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 24, 2008
More than 400 people gathered together on Sunday, Jan. 20, for a special celebration of the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event, which was attended by children, parents, young adults and Catholic school principals, as well as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, used prayer, song and dance to honor the civil rights leader.
Held in the gymnasium of St. Peter Claver School, the sixth annual Atlanta Archdiocesan MLK Jr. Youth and Young Adult Celebration brought together students from several Atlanta-area Catholic schools to recognize the message of peace spread by King decades ago.
The event opened with a welcome by Desmond Drummer, special assistant to the director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and Archbishop Gregory.
“Over the years I’ve gone to many observances of Dr. King’s memorial day and I have to say that this is my very favorite,” said the archbishop in his greeting. “These young people represent not only the legacy that Dr. King’s dream has provided for our nation, but an encouragement for all of us.”
Drummer then led the audience into a prayer, which was structured on the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. Following a reading from Psalm 110 and a responsorial antiphon, the uniqueness of the celebration continued with a performance from the Kindergarten Choir of St. Thomas More School, Decatur, one of the many groups that participated in the event.
The students processed to the front of the audience and, led by St. Thomas More kindergarten teachers Kathy Merritt and Mary Nicolatos, sang a few short songs including “We Shall Overcome.”
The prayer continued with another psalm and antiphon, which was followed by the next reflection group, Batiste Ministries, a music ministry based in the Atlanta area. Consisting of three female vocalists and two male vocalists, one playing the keyboard, the group tapped into the spirit of the day with praise music that had the audience singing and clapping along.
Drummer again led the community in prayer, with a reading from the Book of Revelation. The Amazing Grace liturgical dance group of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta, directed by Kenya Griffin, performed after the reading, with a graceful and well-choreographed routine.
A second reading, this time from 2 Thessalonians, followed, and built on the message of the celebration. “But we ought to give thanks to God for you always, brothers loved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth. To this end he has also called you through our gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Four students from Atlanta-area Catholic schools took the podium after the reading to share their essay submissions for a contest that began last year. The contest, which was sponsored by the Office of Catholic Schools and the Office for Black Catholic Ministry, asked middle school students to write an essay based on the topic, “How to Create a Just Society in Peace.”
The students, including Patrick Connolly of St. Catherine of Siena School, Kennesaw, Stephanie Whitlock of St. Mary’s School, Rome, and Grace Starling of St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, read their essays with poise and confidence. Michael Thurston, a sixth-grader from Christ the King School, Atlanta, won the contest.
“The best way to create a just society is through our faith and with the help of our Lord,” read Thurston from his essay. “One of our many role models is Martin Luther King, who idolized peace in the creation of a society.”
The Taize Choir of Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fairburn, sang a haunting and beautiful version of the Canticle of Mary and Christine Mbaba, of Christ Our Hope Church, led the intercessions. Following the intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer was sung in Spanish by Emmanuel Ministerio de Alabanza, a Hispanic music group formed by members of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna.
After the prayer concluded, Tom Campbell, the associate superintendent of schools, TaMiko Condoll, executive assistant to the superintendent, and Archbishop Gregory handed out the awards for the Catholic Schools MLK Jr. Essay and Poster Contest.
In addition to the essay awards, recognition was given for a poster contest held for students in grades one through four. Macy Bazzell, a fourth-grader from St. John Neumann School took first place, as Henry Bui of St. John the Evangelist School, Hapeville, won second place, and Lauren Bohling of St. Catherine of Siena School took third place. Students in this division also competed in a Chancery’s Choice Poster Contest, where Catholic Center employees voted on their favorite posters. Henry Bui of St. John the Evangelist School also won first place in this competition. Tessa Register, a third-grader from Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta, placed second.
The celebration then concluded with a blessing from the archbishop. “Thanks to all of our parents for sending your children to us to educate in our Catholic schools,” said Archbishop Gregory in his farewell.
The prayer service was cooperatively planned and carried out through a partnership of diocesan entities including the Office for Black Catholic Ministry, the Office of Catholic Schools, the youth and young adult program of the Hispanic ministry office, St. Peter Claver School and Lyke House, the Catholic Center at Atlanta University Center.
“For six years we have been working toward evolving the Youth and Young Adult Celebration into a prayer service, and this year we accomplished this,” said Charles Prejean, director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministry. “The inclusion of the Catholic schools this year also marks a significant step forward in making this celebration the expression of the wider archdiocesan community.”