Hailing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “one of America’s most important lives,” President Bush emphasized the need for Americans to continue King’s work during a speech Monday at Georgetown’s “Let Freedom Ring” concert at the Kennedy Center.

“We recommit ourselves to working for the dream that artin Luther King gave his life for-an America where the dignity of every person is respected, where people are judged not by the color of their skin [but] by the content of their character, and where the hope of a better tomorrow is in every neighborhood in this country,” Bush said.

Bush praised the late Rosa Parks, who posthumously received the university’s John Thompson, Jr. Legacy of a Dream award for her commitment to freedom and equality.

“Mrs. Parks and Dr. King shared a deep belief in a hopeful future,” Bush said. “They strongly believed that segregation could not stand once it was held up to the light in all its ugliness. And because of their spirit and their work, the cruelty and humiliation of Jim Crow is a thing of the past.”

Bush also stressed the need for Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965, set to expire next year, drawing the applause of the crowd.

“Active citizens in the 1960s struggled hard to convince Congress to pass civil rights legislation that ensured the rights of all, including the right to vote,” Bush said. “And Congress must renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

The concert, the fifth in a series from the Let Freedom Ring initiative since 2003, featured gospel singer Yolanda Adams and the Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir, which included Georgetown students, faculty and community members. The concert was hosted by Bruce Gordon, president and CEO of the NAACP.

The ceremony opened with a few words from Rev. Constance Wheeler, a Protestant chaplain at Georgetown. The choir followed with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” under the direction of Rev. Nolan Williams, Jr., minister of music for the Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Laysha Ward, vice president of community relations for Target, then presented the first Legacy of a Dream scholarship to Neal Fisher (COL ’06). The scholarship is awarded to one university senior who exemplifies the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in leadership, community service and social justice.

Fisher, who left home at age 16 and worked three jobs to support himself, said he was absolutely delighted to receive the award.

“When I learned I had won the Target Scholarship, I was obviously thrilled,” Fisher said.

Upon accepting his award, Fisher stressed the need for education for all children.

“What we’re asking for is for an opportunity. It’s about time we started investing in our children.”

Following the presentation of the scholarship, the choir presented the world premiere of the Williams’ arrangement of “We Shall Overcome,” commissioned in honor of Parks. The arrangement featured soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme and referenced the freedom song “Oh Freedom,” a favorite of Parks’.

Bush, along with University President John J. DeGioia and Tiffany Thompson, daughter of John Thompson, Jr., presented the Legacy of a Dream award to Elaine Eason Steele, co-founder of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute. Steele accepted the award in honor of Parks.

“Rosa Parks was no accidental American icon,” DeGioia said. “Looking back over 50 years, it is hard to believe her simple act . would release a whirlwind.”

Steele said the moment presented “mixed emotions.”

“Rosa Parks, through her quiet strength, was a mentor and a `mentee,'” Steele said. “[Both King and Parks] were true warriors in the best that we can be in this country.”

Gordon then introduced Yolanda Adams, considered by many to be the “first lady” of gospel music.

Singing crowd favorites such as “I’m Grateful,”Still I Rise,”I Believe I Can Fly” and “Glory, Glory Hallelujah,” Adams paid her own tribute to Parks’ courage and perseverance.

“Such a quiet strength, such a powerful woman,” Adams said.

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