Foothills Media Group: The Simsbury News January 7, 2013 Jacqueline Bennett
Group hoping to bring MLK memorial to Simsbury to host January events
SIMSBURY — Supporters of the MLK in Connecticut Memorial Project, to be built in Simsbury honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., will host two events slated for Eno Memorial Hall, a benefit concert on Jan. 19, and a Jan. 21 celebration ceremony on Martin Luther King Day. Students from Hartford’s Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts are scheduled to perform at both. Gov. Dannel Malloy has been invited to the celebration ceremony, and should he attend, the governor is expected to be a speaker.
“What makes this year unique is that we’re bringing in another community with performances by students from the Kinsella School in Hartford,” said Joan Rogers, project manager and fundraiser for MLK in Connecticut. She was accompanied by 16th District State Rep. John Hampton and Simsbury High School senior Conor Lyman, both also involved in the project.
“That’s a really nice feature, building bridges in Hartford,” added Hampton, chairman of the MLK Jr. Annual Celebration Committee in Simsbury.
Hampton said the project committee and celebration committee are working together this year for the first time.
“We wanted to observe Martin Luther King Jr. on an annual basis in a meaningful way,” Hampton said. “The celebration started three years ago with the kick-off of the documentary. We did it again last year and we want to continue the momentum,” Hampton said, referring to a documentary that gained national attention.
Put together by Simsbury students, the documentary details two influential summers King spent as a teen, working on tobacco farms in Simsbury and experiencing social desegregation, which he later cited as inspirational in his life’s pursuits.
Lyman, 17, said he got interested in the project two years ago when he performed with the SHS Jazz Ensemble at the local MLK observance.
“What I think is interesting is that Martin Luther King Jr. was about my age when he was here,” Lyman said. “Growing up in this town, you take for granted what is around you — it’s interesting how everyday life can have an impact.”
Lyman is also a member of the MLK in Connecticut Memorial Project Committee.
“I want to help get this message out and inspire a whole generation,” he added.
Rogers said her goal is for King’s time spent time in Simsbury to become common knowledge, and that it was a pivotal life experience for him. Rogers noted that books written by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and by his sister, refer to King talking about his stay in Simsbury and its effect on him.
“A lot of people didn’t know he spent time here,” said Rogers. “Each year’s event builds awareness.”
Rogers said another joy of working on the project is the passion of everyone participating, in particular the young people. Some of the original SHS students who created the documentary but now attend college remain involved, she said.
“They are so engaged,” Rogers said.
The benefit concert on Jan. 19 will run from 7-9 p.m. with performances by students from SHS and the Kinsella School. All proceeds from the concert will go towards building the permanent memorial. Patrons can also sign on to buy an engraved brick for the memorial brickwalk.
The memorial will be erected at the Simsbury Historical Society property, in what is described as a prominent Main Street corner near Phelps Lane and Hopmeadow Street. According to thewww.mlkinct.com website, the memorial will be across the road from a church where King sang in the choir on several Sundays, and next to a building that once housed a drugstore where King sat at a lunch counter and drank milkshakes.
The Simsbury Historical Society and Simsbury Free Library are sponsoring the project. Each has non-profit status, meaning Rogers is eligible to apply for grants, she said.
At the 2 p.m. Jan. 21 celebration ceremony, students will recite some of the 14 quotations inscribed at the MLK Memorial in Washington D.C., such as “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Deacon Arthur L. Miller, director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Hartford, will deliver the keynote address. The Henry James Select Choir is planned to sing and the SHS Jazz Ensemble is scheduled to perform with students from the Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts. An overview of the MLK project will be presented and the SHS Choir will lead a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Local clergy will offer an invocation and benediction.
The MLK in Connecticut memorial is projected to cost $100,000. Thanks to a $20,000 seed donation from Cigna, fundraising got off to a good start, said Rogers. At this point, $35,000 has been raised. Once the memorial is built, Simsbury will be eligible to become part of Connecticut’s Freedom Trail, signifying Simsbury’s spot in the nation’s civil rights history.
Rogers hopes to have the memorial built in two years and for it to become a point of visitation.