Mrs. Angela Lewis shares her message of forgiveness

Sacred+Heart+senior+Zada+Brown+%2720+sings+with+the+Concordia+College+GospelKnights.++Libby+Kaseta+%2722

Libby Kaseta '22

Sacred Heart senior Zada Brown '20 sings with the Concordia College GospelKnights. Libby Kaseta '22

Sacred Heart Greenwich students and faculty gathered January 17 for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day prayer service to celebrate and reflect upon the life and legacy of Dr. King.  The service included performances from the Vision Steppers and the Concordia College GospelKnights choir, student presentations, and a speech from guest speaker Mrs. Angela Lewis, daughter of the late civil rights activist Mr. James Earl Chaney. 

The Vision Steppers and GospelKnights performed at Sacred Heart in previous years and bring a combination of music, movement, and praise to the service by leading the community in musical and dance numbers.  Mr. Dabe James directs the Vision Steppers step dancing group, based in the Immaculate Conception School in the Bronx, New York, according to visionsteppers.org.  The GospelKnights are a choral ensemble led by Mr. Carson Stapleton that is open to all Concordia College students, faculty and staff, according to concordia-ny.eduThe Madrigals, the Sacred Heart Upper School Choir, sang with the GospelKnights, and Upper School seniors joined the Vision Steppers for two of their performances.

Senior Zada Brown and juniors Sarah Mickley and Yvestlana Lafontant attended the inaugural Civil Rights Pilgrimage last spring and offered reflections on Dr. King’s goal for building and establishing the “Beloved Community,” or a community in which peace and justice can prevail over racism, poverty, and military conflict, according to thekingcenter.orgThe student speakers reminded the school community of the importance of embracing Dr. King’s six principals of nonviolence in everyday life in order to make Dr. King’s dream of a loving and peaceful community a reality. 

 

Mrs. Angela Lewis, daughter of Mr. James Earl Chaney, spoke about the importance of spreading love to combat hatred and bigotry.  Christine Guido ’20

Sarah spoke about her experience attending the inaugural Civil Rights Pilgrimage last spring.  During the trip, a group of Sacred Heart students and faculty spent a week in the southern United States visiting memorials and meeting with individuals connected to the civil rights movement.

In her reflection, Sarah referenced a church service the participants attended at Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  During the civil rights movement, the church served as the headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), according to brci.org.  Sarah feels that the welcoming community at the church fulfilled the true meaning of Dr. King’s idea for a “Beloved Community.”

“Although the surrounding neighborhood was broken down and boarded up, the spirit of the people was anything but broken and the warmth of their community is something that we [can] take as an example for our own lives,” Sarah said.

Civil rights workers Mr. Andrew Goodman, Mr. James Earl Chaney, and Mr. Michael Henry Schwerner disappeared June 21, 1964.  Courtesy of fbi.gov

Sacred Heart welcomed Mrs. Lewis who shared her story of peace and forgiveness.  Mrs. Lewis is the daughter of Mr. Chaney, a dedicated member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).  Mr. Chaney was part of a large voter registration and desegregation campaign in Mississippi in 1964 called Freedom Summer.  He died along with two other activists, Mr. Andrew Goodman and Mr. Michael Henry Schwerner, after members of the Ku Klux Klan attacked them June 21, 1964.  Years later, in 2005, a jury sentenced Mr. Edgar Ray Killen, one of the men who orchestrated the killings, to sixty years in prison for manslaughter, according to core-online.org

Mrs. Lewis was only ten days old when her father died and often felt resentment for having to grow up without him.  Mrs. Lewis has since used her pain as fuel to continue her father’s legacy of social justice.  She exercises her passion for helping others in her career as a psychiatric nurse.  She also meets with groups interested in learning about the civil rights movement and teaches students at her church in Mississippi, according to usatoday.com

Upper School students and faculty who attended the Civil Rights Pilgrimage met with Mrs. Lewis last year at her father’s gravesite in Meridian, Mississippi, where she shared how her father’s story impacted her life and her desire to seek justice through nonviolence.  Her strength of character was palpable as she told the group about her decision to forgive her father’s killer and pray for his family during the trial. 

Mrs. Lewis echoed this statement in her speech at the prayer service, where she explained how she hopes that one day she can join hands with both her father and Mr. Killen in heaven.  Mrs. Lewis expressed that the key to achieving the “Beloved Community” is to practice faith, goodness, and love.  After the service in an interview with the King Street Chronicle, she stated that the best thing that people can do to combat hatred is to spread love and practice forgiveness. 

Mrs. Lewis’s speech at the prayer service echoed the message of Dr. King, that love, empathy, and forgiveness is the key to achieving social justice and Dr. King’s dream of the “Beloved Community.”  Sarah felt that Mrs. Lewis’s ability to maintain hope despite her tragic loss was incredibly inspiring.

“Her spirit and hope that she retained and her continual faith in humanity and God is something I admire greatly and aspire to have in my own life,” Sarah said.

Featured Image by Libby Kaseta ’22