The choir of FAIR-Crystal Middle School performed the song “Powerful” at the 38th annual State of Minnesota Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration. The celebration took place at Saint Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on Monday, Jan. 15. The performance held more suspense than the student musicians had prepared for, however.
As the members of the choir filed onto the risers on the Ordway stage, a few loud voices began yelling protests about U.S. involvement in Gaza. Leaving the wings, Minnesota’s Chief Equity Officer (and Rdale’s former interim superintendent) Dr. Stephanie Burrage strode onto the stage and urged the audience to support the Rdale students and honor Dr. King. A loud standing ovation from the capacity crowd provided a few moments for the protesters to be escorted from the hall.
Then it was time for the FAIR-Crystal choir, led by Kimberly Keaton. She prefaced the performance by quoting words from “Powerful” that had suddenly taken on new significance: “I matter, you matter, we matter.” (A video of the performance is available on YouTube, beginning at the 19:20 minute mark.)
“We know there are people who are struggling,” she said “ . . . but today, we should be working towards a peaceful environment . . . for our children and grandchildren.”
Several FAIR-Crystal students interviewed for this article had thoughts on the legacy of Dr. King – and drew a connection between his message of civil disobedience and the very protest that took place before the choir performed on Monday.
Sittana, an alto in the choir, said that “especially as a lot of places are going through stuff and need freedom, we need to share MLK’s voice.”
Teraysa, an eighth grade student in the FAIR-Crystal choir, said, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an inspiring man who showed that if you fight for what you believe in then a lot of things can happen. Even with challenges, you can push through and make great changes in the world.”
She was impressed by how Dr. Burrage handled the protest situation. “I was also impressed by how the protesters stood and did what they believed in.”
Eighth grade soprano Greta agreed. “It was honestly kind of cool seeing people use their voices. It made the song have a deeper meaning.”
Devin, a baritone in the seventh grade, noted, “Music can send a message that just speaking can’t. Some people understand it better, feel what you’re singing.” Bass Emery, an eighth grader, said, “Music adds another layer and ability to convey meaning.” Both young men expressed gratitude to their teachers. “I’m very thankful for being invited [to perform], for our teachers, and for the opportunity,” said Devin.
Each year, the goal of the MLK Day celebration is to “celebrate and recognize the legacy of Dr. King and what his dream means to us today.” This year’s theme was One Dream, One Minnesota.
Before the program onstage, a 20-member orchestra from FAIR Crystal, led by Patricia Kelly, played three pieces in the Ordway’s lobby, all with history and meaning behind them. They were “We Shall Overcome,” which is significant in its connection to the Civil Rights movement. “This Little Light of Mine” is an American folk song with special significance for children, and “Lean on Me” is a popular song that demonstrates how a community can help each other reach goals.
Evelyn, a violinist in the eighth grade, called the experience “an incredible honor. We were greeting people. First they saw the building and then they saw us. We helped make their first impressions.”
“I am so proud of our youth and their involvement in recognizing Dr. King and his continuing contributions to our world,” said Dr. Stephanie Burrage. In a video promoting the 2024 MLK events, Burrage said, “We are leaning into students to come talk about what their dream is. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. We want young people to tell us their dreams as they move into the next phases of their lives.”
The event on Jan. 15 was the culmination of five days of events honoring Dr. King. These included an Achieving the Dream Conference for equity practitioners from across the state, a Youth Empowerment Summit and STEM Career Event, a Service Day and State of Minnesota Career Fair, and a Connections for Hope Day.