Dr. Melba Beals joins the Sacred Heart community to celebrate the life of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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The Sacred Heart Greenwich community celebrated the legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the annual dedicatory prayer service, January 12The esteemed guest speaker for the service was civil rights activist, journalist, and author Dr. Melba Pattillo Beals. The service also featured the Concordia College GospelKnights choir and the Vision Steppers from the Immaculate Conception School. Both groups have joined the Sacred Heart community for this event over the past 13 years. 

The Concordia College GospelKnights and the Sacred Heart Madrigals sang the Lord’s Prayer following Dr. Beals’ reflection.
Daisy Steinthal ’19

During the service, the GospelKnights choir and the Vision Steppers filled Sacred Heart’s gymnasium with vibrant singing and dancing. 
The Concordia GospelKnights is an un-auditioned choral ensemble open to all Concordia College students, faculty, staff and community interested in singing. Mr. Carson Stapleton created the choir in 1989 at Graham Elementary School in Mount Vernon, to positively influence the school’s environment through music, according to www.concordia-ny.edu.
Mr. Dabe James founded “Vision Steppers” and has directed the step dancing, or “stepping,” group for the past 15 years. This group allows high school and middle school students to better understand how they would like to grow throughout their academic career by teaching them to find strength in faith and dance, according to www.icontact-archive.com.
The Martin Luther King service sparks excitement in the Sacred Heart community, as the performers bring a unique mix of music, performance, and prayer. The Vision Steppers opened the service, as the GospelKnights sang “I Praise you, Lord,” originally written by David Metayer and One Accord. The celebration honors the powerful influence of Dr. King through his message of non-violence and peaceful determination. 
Head of School Ms. Pamela Juan Hayes ’64 introduced the various groups and guest speaker. Teachers and students also took part in different readings and intercessions, emphasizing Dr. Martin Luther King’s message of seeing beyond a person’s appearance to the content of his or her character.
Throughout the prayer service the GospelKnights choir and Vision Steppers led the Sacred Heart community in uplifting musical numbers in which Sacred Heart students participated. The Madrigals, Sacred Heart’s Upper School choir, performed with the GospelKnights, and five Sacred Heart seniors Mary Jane Tranfo, Kathryn Goodfriend, Maggy Wolanske, Pau Barbosa, and Zaza Gil danced in a section of the Vision Stepper’s opening number.

“Every single year, I have looked forward to the Martin Luther King prayer service, but as a senior attending the service for the last time and having the opportunity to participate in it, made the whole experience more special than ever before,” senior Mary Jane Tranfo said. “I believe that this prayer service truly has the power to unite communities and create lasting friendships.”

Sacred Heart seniors Mary Jane Tranfo, Kathryn Goodfriend, and Maggy Wolanske performed with the Vision Steppers during the prayer service. 
Daisy Steinthal ’19

Dr. Beals, the celebrated guest speaker, is a civil rights activist who grew up in segregated Little Rock, Arkansas. She was one of the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of nine high school students who, in the fall of 1957, integrated Little Rock Central High School. Despite facing violence and prejudice, the nine still fought for their right to an equal education.
Dr. Beals is also a recipient of the Spingarn Medal, an annual award the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) gives to honor exceptional achievement by an African American, according to www.naacp.org.
Dr. Beals explained that she does not view herself as extraordinary. On the contrary, in the prayer service, she began by discussing her flaws and character quirks. As a young girl, Dr. Beals did not feel a radical call to social justice. Rather, she saw herself as an equal to her white peers. She questioned why one’s complexion would be relevant to one’s character. Dr. Beals only wished to be treated like the other children and have the “personal freedom” of choice to swim in a pool, go to the movies, and ride the merry-go-round.
“First you started thinking, oh what’s wrong with me? Especially if you’re little, you think, oh brown isn’t a good color,” Dr. Beals said. “Why don’t you like my skin? What’s wrong with my hair… it hurts your feelings. Every single day of my life; my feelings got hurt.” 
Dr. Beals’ also reflected on her strong relationship with her grandmother and how her grandmother influenced and inspired her to develop an equally strong personal faith in God. Dr. Beals cited her grandmother’s phrase, “God is as close as your skin,” as encouragement when met with cruelty and violence.
Dr. Melba Pattillo Beals speaking to the Sacred Heart community about her relationship with her mother and grandmother and her experience as a member of the “Little Rock Nine.”
Daisy Steinthal ’19

In her speech, Dr. Beals recalled the violence she faced during her first attempt to enter Central High School. Upon reaching the school, she and her mother became surrounded by a mob of white men, many of whom held ropes over their shoulders and threatened to hang her for trying to receive an education. In that moment, she began reciting the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 as a cry for God’s help in the seemingly hopeless situation.
“Nobody is going to come get you but God,” Dr. Beals said. “You’ll remember this for the rest of your life. Ultimately, nobody’s going to come get you but God, or He is going to dispatch someone.”
Closing the service, the GospelKnights sang “I Know Who I Am,” originally by Sinach, a Nigeran gospel singer and songwriter, and the Vision Steppers joined in their final performance of Hezekiah Walker’s “Do You Know Him?”
After the service, Dr. Beals took the time to meet with members of Sacred Heart’s Middle School newspaper the Tiger Times, the Upper School newspaper the King Street Chronicle, and the Broadcast Journalism department. During the interview, Dr. Beals offered encouraging advice for aspiring young women who see her as an inspiration. 
“When somebody tells you that you can’t do something, go for it! That’s always been my motto… The thing that you say that I can’t have, I’m going to have it,” Dr. Beals said. “You know how I know I am going to have it? God gave it to me.”
– Christine Guido, Staff Writer