40th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration uplifts the power of words

In his book, The Measure of Man, published in 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Decades later, these timeless words of King remain a plea for present and future generations to be courageous citizens, using the power of their voices to take a stand and spur change—a message uplifted by Gettysburg College during its 40th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration.

The Majestic Theater hosted composer and pianist Damien Sneed’s “We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” on Jan. 25 as the event's headliner. This musical performance showcased selections of African-American music traditions, as well as interwoven spoken word from King’s recorded speeches. Gettysburg College choirs, under the direction of Sunderman Conservatory of Music Prof. Robert Natter, joined Sneed and his spirited ensemble onstage.

“We come together on evenings like this not only to mark our past, but also because we understand it to be a moment for reflection—a moment to assess where we are as people and the distance we need to travel between our aspirations and our realities,” President Bob Iuliano said in his welcome remarks.

Pres. Iuliano addressing the crowd at the 40th annual MLK Day celebration

Throughout the evening, donations were made to support the Adams County Career Aid Project, a scholarship fund for low-income local youth and adults. This project provides continued learning, career development, and personal success by helping them obtain post-high school education or specialized training.

Performances included unique arrangements of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” several of which brought the entire theater to its feet.

“I’m originally from Chicago, and the songs played during the show were a lot of the same songs I grew up learning at the church I went to. They were the songs that got me through all the hard moments in life,” said Kayode Balogun ’22, president of Gettysburg College’s Black Student Union. “This event was such an uplifting and encouraging experience for me, and I can definitely say it brightened my day, my week, my month, and my year. It brought me back to my roots, reminded me of home, and it was great to feel supported and confident in my own skin.”

Members of Gettysburg's College and Concert choirs sing with Damien Sneed and his band

Recognizing the impact that words can have on the lives of others, whether through the songs of Sneed or the speeches of King, Iuliano thanked the performers for “applying their voices for the greater good and advocating for the positive change we desire to see in our community, in our nation, and in our world.”

Iuliano further encouraged everyone to use their voices and actions to be agents of positive change.  

“This is everyone’s work. It does not belong only to some members of our society. How we think about justice speaks to what we see in ourselves as a country and as a people,” Iuliano said. “And so, as we undertake this essential work—right here at home in Gettysburg—to better our College, our community, our schools, and our workplaces, let us follow the example of King and [Rosa] Parks and [John] Lewis, and so many others throughout history, who put themselves on the line for the greater good. … If we do so, I believe we will inch ever close to creating the kind of world Dr. King dreamed we were capable of.”

Learn more about diversity and inclusion at Gettysburg College.

View photos of the event on Flickr.

By Molly Foster
Photos courtesy of Jason Minick
Posted: 01/27/20