By C. Ron Allen
Delray Beach Tribune
DELRAY BEACH – Students at Village Academy on Wednesday held a somber wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 44th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hundreds of students and teachers attended the brief program, where they sang, heard speeches and laid flowers at a makeshift tomb in front of the school.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would be proud to know that his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech has become [a reality] today,” student Chason Lang, who emceed the somber program, told the audience. “His courage and desire to unite all races has had a big impact on the whole world. And that’s why we are gathered here today.”
The acclaimed civil rights leader is best remembered for his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, which united millions of people in the United States and around the world to work for racial justice.
Wednesday’s event culminated weeks of powerful reenactments of the life of King for students in a journalism class. They produced a pictorial tribute, “A Movement That Changed the Country, Village Academy’s Journalism Class Remembers the Civil Rights Movement.”
Principal Guarn Sims said it was fitting that the event, the only of its kind in the school district, be held at Village. King inspired the entire nation with his stirring words, his great vision and his great dream, he said.
“One of the things I would like our young tigers to learn is how Dr. King was instrumental in a historical movement that changed how America operates,” he said. “The things that we enjoy today are because of the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Sims assured the audience that Wednesday’s observance will be an annual event.
“We want next year’s students to pick up and make this even bigger and better in terms of how we are learning about the Civil Rights Movement,” he said.
King arrived in Memphis on April 3 and delivered what would be the final speech of his life, now known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address, in which he spoke of his own mortality.
He was killed on the night of April 4, 1968 after being shot on a motel balcony. He was just 39 years old at the time and had been in the city to lead a march for workers’ rights.
His push for equal rights won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. That same year, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial segregation in public places. More than four decades later, King’s legacy is celebrated along with signs of racial progress, including the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president.
The students’ pictorial tribute, which is on display at the school, was led by Palm Beach State College student Carol Lewis, who photographed them for a staged tableau.
Lewis, a print journalist who does media relations for Florida Atlantic University Libraries, said students were curious about the movement and asked many questions during the photo shoot.
“If at least one student studies history, writing or photography as a result of my time at the school, I will know that my reach extended beyond the camera,” Lewis said.
Village Academy is the only preK-12 public school in the Palm Beach County School District and one of two in the state. The principal, in his second year, aims to create an academy-style learning environment where mentorship and tutelage trickles down and up.
C. Ron Allen can be reached at email@example.com or 561-665-0151.