By Mariah Craven
After Sept. 11, many Americans found a new understanding of fear. That sentiment was not unfamiliar to Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life was celebrated nationally yesterday.
“He dealt with a lot of fear in his life,” said Dr. Thomas Payzant, superintendent of Boston public schools. “He said it’s real, but we can’t let it get the best of us. We have to acknowledge it, recognize that it’s there and we have to manage it and overcome it.
“That’s what he did. And that’s what we should do.”
Nearly 1,000 area students and their parents participated in a celebration of King’s life yesterday in an event titled, “In Our Own Words … ,” which featured words of praise from Mayor Thomas Menino and WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton.
Featuring performances from elementary, middle and high school students, the event sought to display the “song, dance, music and words that will celebrate and illuminate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,” said Anne Norton, director of Suskind Young at Arts.
Menino congratulated the performers and encouraged everyone to celebrate the diversity that King promoted.
“Boston’s a much different city today than when Dr. Martin Luther King went to Boston University,” Menino said. “It’s a much more diverse city … The diversity of our city is the strength of Boston. We must all build on this diversity.”
Menino also encouraged the students to exercise their freedom to express themselves.
In front of a large and colorful rendering of King, elementary school children sang traditional spiritual songs and performed a contemporary Chinese dance. Middle school performers paid homage with spoken word poetry and step dancing, while local high schoolers danced and played a jazz tribute.
Burton encouraged the children to “fight for what you believe in, but know how to fight … The greatest fighter never threw a punch.” Burton was on the program as a replacement for TV’s Steve Harris of “The Practice,” who could not make the event due to “scheduling reasons,” according to Wang Theatre spokeswoman Theresa Febo.
Aside from not having to attend classes on Friday morning, many of the program attendees seemed to enjoy themselves regardless and recognized the importance of the tribute.
“The program was extremely dynamic,” said Bildade Augustin, a speaker and senior at Health Careers Academy. “I think that all the youths that participated just reiterated the things that Martin Luther King, Jr., worked so hard for.”
“I think if Martin Luther King was here, he would be very proud,” exclaimed Nicaury, an 11-year-old from Jesiah Quincy Elementary School.
Looking around the emptying auditorium after the program, 1st Sgt. Burch Alford, pJr. of English High School noted the diversity of the audience and expressed satisfaction with the program.
“It shows the diversity that he believed in for people to come together and just have a good time,” he said.