Performance commemorates MLK speech

By LaMonique Hamilton Staff Writer Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday evening at the Imperial Centre to premiere the Arts Center’s “Color in Freedom: Journey along the Underground Railroad” exhibit with a presentation combining music, the poetry of Langston Hughes and re-enactments of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s precursor to his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech with the trailer for the documentary “Origin of the Dream.”

At several points throughout the evening, audience and cast members were visibly moved by the local connection to King’s speech.

The way that Hughes’s poetry came to life, the way that the spirit of this community came through with the music and the songs and then with the accuracy and depth of content that they re-enacted the speech that Dr. King gave here was so astute and so provoking,” said Dr. Jason Miller, author of “Origin of the Dream” and professor at N.C. State University. “It was great to be in the audience and feel the way everyone was being moved and stirred by this incredible history that took place right here in Rocky Mount.”

Rosa A. Brodie, a retired teacher and former school board member, participated in the performance. She remembered being in the Booker T. Washington High School gymnasium when King spoke in 1962.

I looked at it as something that could be. I didn’t know at the time how it could be because I was working in an all-black school,” Brodie said. “But what he said, I said, ‘I can help make that happen.’ So, when things came along, I said yes.”

Brodie, 80, said over the past 53 years, she has reminded herself of King’s charge as she worked to promote integration and progress within the community.

I’m hoping that one person can make a difference, and that somewhere along the line with the things that I have done that I have made a difference to make Dr. King’s dream come true and mine, also,” Brodie said.

Brooke Edwards, the Imperial Centre’s theater director, said it is important that this story and other works that are representative of the entire population of Rocky Mount come alive on stage.

One thing that we have to do here is honor the fact that we live in a community that is 65 percent African-American and that we need to be telling more of their stories to truly be a community theater,” Edwards said. “There has to be a nice mix where the entire community is honored and represented on the stage.”

Rebecca Cerese, director of the “Origin of the Dream” documentary, said working with Miller to bring the connection of King and Hughes’s work to life has been an exciting experience.

I have that same passion about civil rights, about justice, equality. So, it was an amazing experience, an amazing opportunity,” Cerese said. “Part of the fun has been to really brainstorm about how to turn it into a documentary that people would want to actually watch. How often do you have an opportunity to add to the historical record?”

Miller said watching his book evolve into a larger project and the support received by Rocky Mount residents is exciting to witness.

I had a sense there would be a great deal of interest and involvement. What I had no idea about was that we’d be able to not only know about the speech in Rocky Mount but actually bring the audio to life,” Miller said. “History and speeches don’t live on paper. They live in our ears and audio and live ways. For a city like Rocky Mount to be so prepared when he came in 1962, to be so committed to that legacy today has been integral in making this project more known and expanding.”

The “Origin of the Dream” trailer will be shown alongside the “Color in Freedom” exhibit in the Arts Center. The exhibit will run through December and is free to the public.

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