by Capri Scarcelli | a&e editor
Jan. 20, 2022
“His words echo through our hearts and minds,” Mayor Ed Gainey said. “In the spirit of [Dr.] King, ‘If we work together, we shall all overcome.’”
Sponsored by the DEMASKUS Theater Collective and the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, “Spirit Everlasting: A Tribute to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” offered a virtual, heartfelt performance to commemorate King’s birthday on Monday, Jan. 17 at 1 p.m. through YouTube live stream. Filming was done by Emmai Alaquiva and Ya Momz House Production.
Executive producer and assistant director Shaunda Erikka McDill said that the premiere put a spin on recognizing the legacy of King through their “artistic home.”
“You will see the gifts and talents of actors and singers on display, inspired by the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” McDill said. “We hope that you, too will ponder and question during this time: What is it that we say about our faiths, our beliefs, our values, when all of our backs are against the wall?”
The premiere began with snippets from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, then crossed over to live performances of his lesser-known words of wisdom.
Inspired by works from Howard W. Thurman, a supporter of the non-violence movement, King incorporated Thurman’s ideologies into his own. DEMASKUS performers made sure to also include his speeches to show the duality of these idols.
Actors included Dwayne Fulton, Amanda Van Story Lewis, Karla C. Payne, Lisha Logan, Pariss Johnson, Charles E. Timbers, Lorenzo Boone and Peter Lawson Jones. These performers memorized excerpts from both King and Thurman to represent the African American experience in King’s lifetime, while also making parallels to the civil unrest of today. Each excerpt rang out with the unsung tune of acknowledging the pain of the past for hope for tomorrow.
In the “God’s Children” speech, the powerful notion of inequality in America was made known through the euphemisms of being a “nobody” or a “somebody.” In King’s words, “every man is a somebody if he is a child of God.” Through these religious undertones, the performers noted that King inspired hope from having faith in a better world.
In between the readings, gospel performances of “Walk With Me Lord,” “Be Free” and “Summertime” were featured as an uplifting accompaniment to King’s impact.
Okema T. Moore directed the musical portions of the premiere. She said that the opportunity to work with singers Calesta Day, Charlie Vox and Jonathan Royal was “a true blessing.”
“These are the words of MLK and Howard W. Thurman, and they are stirring,” Moore said. “It was my honor to direct these pieces.”
Day was a featured soloist from Atlanta, classically-trained in opera and no. 9 on Billboard’s top 100 for Gospel music. Thanking DEMASKUS for this premiere, Day said she was “honored for the opportunity to minister through song.”
The music itself had impeccable range, from classical arrangements to renditions of J. Cole. Each vocalist brought an astounding energy to the table, keeping the audience’s hearts overflowing with joy. The story-telling within the sheer power of their voices was a showstopper in itself.
To conclude the premiere, DEMASKUS cut back to the “I Have a Dream” recording from the very beginning, leaving the audience with a ray of hope to remember King for his passionate teachings.
The “Spirit Awakening” live stream is still available on the AWAACC website. Tune in for the inspiring, uplifting performance supporting King’s works and the beauty of Black art.