Members of the Rock Hill and Webster Groves communities came together for the 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration. Attendees participated in a march and watched performances from local students.
The 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration united Webster Groves on a day of remembrance and celebration. The event Jan. 19 began with a march of roughly 50 people, followed by presentations from local students, including three from Webster University.
Rev. David Denoon of First Congregational Church welcomed participants, and after an opening prayer, the march began.
The march passed what was once Douglas High School, the only African-American school in St. Louis County during segregation.
“North Webster was a really thriving African American jewel,” Denoon said.
He also pointed out a for-sale funeral parlor and explained that this was the last African American-owned business in the historic community.
Along with remembering the community’s history, the crowd sang songs such as “This Little Light of Mine” and “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” Marchers also joined together to chant “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Denoon said one of the reasons he felt the march was so important was because it allowed the community to connect with what Martin Luther King Jr. and others experienced in the past.
“I think one of the most important things we can do is to put a sense in our bodies,” Denoon said. “So, to have her marching, just for a mile, singing freedom songs and getting a sense of what it might have been like for Dr. King and others who were putting themselves on the line for change is important.”
Performances from local students were also part of the event. Students in the Webster Groves School District wrote essays and created artwork that highlighted this year’s theme of “Intelligence plus character,” which was taken from a quote by Dr. King.
The winners, along with other local students, performed their pieces on stage. Sophomores Amara Webb and Tony Merritt II were two of the three Webster students selected to perform in this year’s celebration.
“I think because the event particularly celebrates black culture, we were excited to be able to do some of that work,” Merritt said. “This opportunity just to celebrate us, I think, was very appealing.”
The pair learned they would be performing in early December, and they quickly decided that they wanted to sing a duet. After looking at their options, Webb and Merritt chose “The Color Purple” from the acclaimed musical of the same name.
“So we chose ‘The Color Purple’ because it has more of a universal theme of hope and love for a community, and we thought that would be really appropriate for this occasion,” Webb said.
The event initially planned for Webb and Merritt to each sing a solo song. Because they chose to do a duet, Webb and Merritt had to select a second song to perform at the event. After some discussion, Webb explained that they chose to sing “This Little Light of Mine.”
“It has a kind of like a childhood nostalgia for the both of us ‘cause we grew up singing that song in church,” Webb said. “We liked that song because I think it applies to people’s lives no matter what their religion is.”
Merritt added he hoped the song would create a sense of community where audience members would feel comfortable singing along.
Denoon hopes the event allows the community to not only remember the life and legacy of Dr. King, but also give the community a chance to reflect on the future.
“To look back and consider how far we’ve come, and then to look forward and say, ‘look at how far we still have to go,’” Denoon said. “So to feel a sense of pride, but also to feel a sense of longing, and the ache that comes with the desire for true freedom and true justice.”