Jan. 19, 2004 – The life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. were celebrated in a small but significant way Monday morning as school students sang his praises to a sparse but thoroughly engaged audience in Emancipation Garden.
It was strictly the students' program. No long speeches by politicians. Actually, only a few adults took the microphone. This was the intention of organizers Erma Skelton, Charlotte Amalie High School English teacher and mistress of ceremonies, and William I. Frett, district school superintendent.
"It's the students' day," Frett said, "and I am very proud of them. Their performance is an honor well deserved."
"I liked it," community activist Marie Simmons said. "No stodgy politicians."
A band from Leonard Dober Elementary School under the direction of Malvern Gumbs started things off with the national anthem and the "Virgin Islands March." There followed a rendition of "So Smooth" by an ensemble from Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and a reading, "Message of Hope, by Kean student David Ramnarine. And Lockhart Elementary School students performed a pantomime.
Around the garden, some seated on benches, some standing, others strolling around, the audience quieted when 14-year-old CAHS student Deverille Dumas read "Catch the Fire" by black poet and playwright Sonia Sanchez.
A few cruise ship visitors heard the singing and followed it to its source. "I'm so glad we found this," said Margy Smith, who had come into town with her husband and another couple. "We're from Atlanta where the celebration is huge at the King Center," Smith said, "but this is wonderful, just wonderful. That reading was so moving."
After the ceremony, Dumas said she is disappointed about what has become of King's dream for the future, for the children. "Martin Luther King had a fine dream, but we've somehow lost the vision," she said. "There are no Kings now, no Malcolm X's. King said we need to stand up for something, or we die doing nothing."
Simmons expressed disappointment of a different nature. "Look at all these kids," she said. "Where are the parents? There's probably about five or six here." She said the Dober School band was "excellent, totally disciplined — but there were no parents here to support them. It's disrespectful."
Simmons expressed her concerns to Frett after the ceremony. "We need to send them a message," she said. "This should be a wake-up call." She also wondered where the usual printed programs were. None were not distributed to the audience. "I like to give praise," she said, "but I criticize them when it's necessary."
Frett agreed that there should have been more parents at the ceremony, even though he was enormously pleased at the program the students presented.
This was the second time in two months that lack of parental participation in school affairs prompted public comment. In mid-December, 11 students at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School staged a half-day hunger strike to draw attention to their pleas for more involvement by their parents in addressing problems at their school. See "Cancryn students hunger for gym, A-C." A teacher at CAHS recently said the same problem existed there.
On Monday, Frett thanked people for attending the Martin Luther King ceremony as he greeted them afterward. "This was a message of peace and love," he said. "It's sad when people don't recognize all the good students we have. It's not all students who walk around with knives."
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