COURTESY GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY The Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir performed at the eponymous event at the Kennedy Center, sponsored by the university.
COURTESY GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY
The Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir performed at the eponymous event at the Kennedy Center, sponsored by the university.

Bread for the City Director George Jones received the 2015 John Thompson Jr., Legacy of a Dream Award at the annual Let Freedom Ring Celebration on Monday evening at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The event featured performer Natalie Cole who was accompanied by the Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir.

Jordan Blackwell (COL ’15), a student selected to open the event, spoke about his gratitude for Martin Luther King Jr.

“Lord, if I could have just one prayer it would be thank you,” Blackwell said. “Thank you for the opportunity to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you for his courage to take the first step without seeing the whole staircase, which caused ripples of justice throughout the globe.”

Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter and Target group Vice President Lydia Diaz spoke following Blackwell’s invocation. Both women spoke about the ways in which the Kennedy Center and Target are following in King’s legacy by their commitment to service.

Next the Let Freedom Ring choir, directed by Reverend Nolan Williams, performed an original composition titled “I Got a Right to Vote.” Williams, who has conducted the choir for 12 years, is commissioned by Georgetown University annually to write or arrange a composition that captures the meaning and purpose of the gathering.

“[My composition] commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, but it also captures, I think, the spirit of civil unrest that we are experiencing throughout this country as people of good will stand up to demand equality from our justice system,” Williams said. “It is my hope that you will not only recognize your right, but you will exercise your right.”

Williams then conducted “We Shall Overcome,” which was commissioned in 2006 for the Let Freedom Ring Celebration. The song, which became the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, was sung at the dedication of the MLK memorial in D.C. in 2011. A commemorative recording of the song was also played on NASA’s newest spacecraft Orion, which last month completed a successful test flight that was the first step toward an eventual manned mission to Mars and an asteroid.

“As we were standing there watching this space craft about to go further than any space craft has gone in some 40 years through our space program I kept thinking about protests underway from Ferguson to Cleveland, from New York to L.A,” Williams said. “And then I thought about the irony of Orion carrying as a part of its cargo the civil rights anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’ … with this message, ‘We shall live in peace someday.’ What a powerful reminder that is to us all.”

After the performance, University President John J. DeGioia was welcomed to the stage to speak about the John Thompson, Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, named after the former basketball coach who led the team from 1972 to 1999. Thompson grew up in the projects in Washington, D.C., and after leading his high school to multiple championships, he earned a scholarship to Providence College and went on to play for the NBA Celtics.

“I think it’s more important in life for those kids when they leave here and they use the good education they got here at Georgetown and they go out in the world and apply what they did and they try to help someone else or try and educate someone else,” Thompson said in a video played at the event.

This year’s Legacy of a Dream Award recipient, George Jones, has served as the chief executive officer at Bread for the City, an organization that provides services including food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services for vulnerable members of the community. Bread for the City has been operating in D.C. for almost 20 years.

“Every day hundreds of people walk through our centers looking for help,” Jones said in the video. “We fight poverty with a sense of dignity, respect, justice and service.”

Since Jones joined Bread for the City as CEO in 1996, the organization has grown to employ 100 staff members at two centers, serving nearly 33,000 D.C. residents each year. Leonard Edwards, currently a client advocate at Bread for the City, was one of the thousands that the organization provided aid to.

“A place like Bread for the City gives you a voice. A place like Bread for the City allows you to keep your pride — allows you to stop the dissention into poverty,” Edwards said in a video played at the event.
Natalie Cole closed out the ceremony with her performance of several hits, including “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” and a rendition of “Unforgettable” set to a video of her father, the late Nat King Cole. She dedicated the song “I Miss You Like Crazy” to Dr. King.

“There is a song [“I Miss You Like Crazy”] with a lyric that expresses our feelings about people that have gone before us, either left us with a great legacy or left us with great thoughts, great moments, that we can be proud of,” Cole said. “I would like to say that I think we miss Dr. King. We miss his voice. We miss his energy, his spirit.”

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