The 7th Annual MLK Day in Simsbury Celebration was held at First Church in Simsbury, Connecticut January 16, 2017 – the Henry James Memorial Select Choir performs.


State Representative John Hampton and vocalist Jolie Rocke Brown join hands to sing.




Article & Photos by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com


Inside the Simsbury, Connecticut church where a young Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice stood out, town leaders spoke of pride in their place in American history. People filled the pews flowing upstairs into the balconies at the First Church of Christ Monday, January 16, for the 7th Annual MLK Day in Simsbury Celebration.

First Selectman Lisa Heavner.

Simsbury, Connecticut’s First Selectman Lisa Heavner.


“A great man once graced Simsbury with his presence,” said First Selectman Lisa Heavner.


First Church of Christ Pastor the Rev. George Harris recounted a story, by now well-known, about Martin Luther King Jr. working on a Simsbury tobacco farm in the summers of 1944 and 1947 to earn money to attend Morehead College. While attending a Sunday service at First Church with other young black men working on the farm King’s voice was said to have resonated as parishioners sang hymns, noted Harris. After the service, King was approached and welcomed by the pastor at the time.


First Church of Christ in Simsbury, CT.

First Church of Christ in Simsbury, Connecticut.

“What story will be told about us 70 years from now and will it make us proud?” Harris said.


Differing so immensely from life in the era of the segregated South, it was King’s experience of social inclusion and being welcomed in Simsbury that helped to shape his vision for his life – his calling – as evidenced by recollections later written by King, noted State Representative John Hampton. King’s time in Simsbury “crystallized” for him, what he wanted to do with his life said Hampton, who chairs the MLK Day in Simsbury Celebration Committee.


Keynote speaker Greg Jones.

Keynote Speaker Greg Jones.

Keynote speaker Greg Jones reflected upon “The Responsibility of Inheriting the Dream.” The founder and chairman of the Legacy Foundation of Hartford, a venture philanthropy focused on addressing disparities in education and health, Jones quoted the speech given by King during the March on Washington in 1963 when he talked about “the fierce urgency of now.” Jones said King’s words still apply today.


African-Americans who have benefited from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, in which King was instrumental, as well as supporters who believe in those ideals, have a responsibility to carry the movement forward or risk “bankrupting” it, he said.


Jones fought back tears recalling an incident in his hometown when he was a child, which came to be called the “Orangeburg Massacre.” Inspired by King, 200 African-American students from South Carolina State University on February 8, 1968 in Orangeburg, South Carolina, sought to end racial segregation at a local bowling alley. Their efforts were met by South Carolina Highway Patrol officers.


“Three students were killed and 27 injured. It was one of the deadliest, bloodiest shootings by authorities on a college campus,” said Jones as he regained his composure, “I was just a kid but it is brandished in my memory forever.”


“We do not want to go back to the 1960’s,” said Jones.


Action is the answer, he continued. It is all right to see colors, “we all see colors”, but the key is to respect all colors, said Jones. And action can run the gamut in everyday life from speaking out against injustice to simple kindnesses shown to others – saying hello, holding a door – each can make a world of difference, he added.


Musical selections were offered by Jolie Rocke Brown, a soprano who has a long list of credits such as singing at Canegie Weill Recital Hall and with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. She was introduced by her friend, Angela Griffin, Director, Simsbury Public Schools Music & Performing Arts. From the town’s middle school, the Henry James Memorial Select choir sang “Sit Down Servant” under the direction of Scott Semanski and the Simsbury Intonations Chorus performed led by Greg Babal, director.


Jolie Rocke Brown.


Henry James Memorial Select Choir under the direction of Scott Semanski, choral director.


The Simsbury Intonations Chorus, Greg Babal, director.


















As the ceremony closed, many locked hands. Everyone was asked to sing, “We Shall Overcome.”

Angela Griffin and T. J. Donohue share a hymn book and sing together "We Shall Overcome."

Angela Griffin and T. J. Donohue .

A mother and daughter join in.

Mother and daughter.


Locking hands in song, “We Shall Overcome.”