As the sun set on January 15, in what has become a beloved annual tradition in Fifeville, a crowd several hundred strong gathered in front of Buford Middle School to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Following prayers by Pastors Jim Bleakley and Nathan Walton of Charlottesville Vineyard Church, the diverse crowd of neighborhood residents, volunteers, and friends marched with lit candles through the Prospect community in a display of hope and unity with added meaning after the deadly Unite the Right rally of August 12, 2017. As he has almost every year since 2003, Doug Granger played his trumpet while marchers sang along to “This Little Light of Mine,” “As the Saints Come Marching In,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Down by the Riverside.”
The marchers returned to Buford and entered the auditorium for the evening ceremony, with Charlottesville School Board Chair and Strive mentor Juandiego Wade serving as Master of Ceremonies. Following a welcome by Abundant Life Chief Operating Officer Anne Brown and a prayer by Pastor Walter Kim of Trinity Presbyterian Church, the African dance and drum troupe Chihamba charmed the crowd with a rousing performance. Next, long time friend of the ministry Bernard Hankins performed his thought-provoking spoken word poem, “MiLK,” and Director of Boys Programming Richard Feero and 5/8 Club intern Cardale Emmery explained the Eight Principles of Christian Community Development.
The Beloved Community Band then led the audience in singing “Life Every Voice and Sing” and Johnson Tutoring Coordinator Angel Feero performed Martin Luther King’s favorite song, “Precious Lord.” Next, Christen Edwards introduced her father, Rev. Ken Edwards, who delivered the keynote address, “Unity and Healing Brings Strength,” preaching from Psalm 133.
Following Rev. Edwards inspiring speech, Cardale kicked off the community awards by presenting the 5/8 Award to 6th grader Bryan Rodriguez, noting his perseverance and encouragement towards others. Richard then presented the Strive Award to senior Appiton Weyee, commending him for his faith, transparency, volunteer service to the 5/8 Club, and part-time employment while pursuing his high school diploma.
Anne then bestowed the Community Involvement Award upon WorldStrides, a long time partner that for many years has helped decorate the White House for Christmas Store, and has offered free scholarships to Abundant Life students for its annual “Friends and Family” trip to destinations such as Washington DC, Williamsburg, and Jamestown. Angel concluded the awards by presenting Abundant Life’s highest honor, the Beloved Community Award, to neighborhood resident, campus minister and long time volunteer Lisa Keller. In addition to serving at Bible Club and recruiting college students to volunteer, Lisa annually leads Charlottesville City Plunge, where college students spend their spring break living in Prospect, serving with Abundant Life and other local organizations, learning about social justice and the racial history of Charlottesville, and getting to know their Prospect neighbors.
Anne then blessed the fellowship meal, the Beloved Community Band sent everyone out with Stevie Wonders’s “Happy Birthday,” and attendees gathered in the cafeteria, sitting down at the “table of brotherhood” to break bread together. Dr. King most certainly would have been pleased.