There was a time when Island folk did little on the only national holiday to honor a U.S. citizen who was not a president.
It was a day off. Yet some worked as usual. Others skied. Some listened to rain. A few joined Seattle rallies and marches. Most years our mayors drove to the Kitsap Fairgrounds to share inspiring words at the county’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
Rev. King’s “I have a Dream” speech envisioned a harmonious community. Some Island folk of different faiths and views of the miracle and mystery of our biosphere decided to bring that vision to life. Friends, neighbors, harmony, music - singing!
Some were inspired by a “gospel choir” from Seattle called “Total Experience.” In 1986, Mayor Royer and Seattle leaders sent them to Bainbridge, part of a concert tour to help them raise $60,000 to fly to Nicaragua. For 12 years, a civil war raged there. How to help end it? “Send in the Choir!”
Hearing their 100 voices in the BHS auditorium made believers. They did fly to Nicaragua, sang 27 concerts throughout the country, came home and two weeks later, the war ended.
Many have sung with this choir during its 40 years - all ages and the once predominantly African American choir has changed, as have local populations. They began from the tumult of post-Vietnam unrest singing spirituals, traditional gospel and songs from the African American tradition. They traveled the world, sung for presidents and won a world choir competition in the Sydney Opera House. Their music is serious and without sheet music. It sustained one of our nation’s most oppressed peoples through slavery, hate crimes, and racial discrimination. It came from folks denied reading and often too poor to have songbooks. This was music of freedom and the Civil Rights Movement!
A few Island folk thought, “Let’s create a community choir of all ages, faces, voices, faiths and walks of life to sing the music that inspired Rev. King. Let’s build community, bring neighbors together to sing and break bread – soulful song and soul food – and let’s do it in MLK’s memory and in support of local charities.”
For some, Sing Out is a joyous evening concert – a chance to bask in the energy and spirit.
For others, it is an afternoon and evening immersed in the history, harmonies and syncopations of a style of singing rarely shared here - and with one of the world’s best singers, choir teachers and choirs, Pastor Patrinell Wright and the Total Experience Gospel Choir.
This year we will build a community choir in an afternoon workshop at the historic Filipino American Community Hall (next to Strawberry Hill Park) where master chef Rudy Rimando will keep choir energy up with ginger tea and savory soul food.
The evening concert is in the new BHS Commons. It will be an historic happening, too.
At the BHS all-school MLK assembly last week, students unveiled a new campus street sign. Through the efforts of United Brothers and Sisters Club and its president, Ali Saunders’ senior project, the first street on a school campus in Washington state and the first in Kitsap County is named in honor of the man whose legacy inspires us: “Martin Luther King Jr. Lane NE.”
There are 900-plus roads named for MLK in the nation. Most are in the South: Texas, 105; Georgia, 127.
Only four are in Washington: one each in Yakima, Seattle, Tacoma and Bainbridge Island. Ours will remind campus visitors and students every day of “The Dream,” our nation’s dream. It will challenge us all, and generations yet born, to extend that path into our daily lives — and to dream, perchance to sing!
This year we sing to celebrate Rev. King, the new memorial lane and the students who brought it to life.