A view from Glen Hill: Events mark two remarkable men

The past month has offered us two remarkable celebrations in Wilton: of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and of the life of Nelson Mandela.

Each man had a profound impact, first on a national stage and then on a worldwide one. Each brought an insistence on the use of non-violent methods to secure profound change, and each insisted upon utterly forthright dealings that confront directly and courageously fundamental societal evils: the dehumanization and oppression of people based on their race. Each also subsequently expanded the reach of his work to address other systemic evils, including grinding poverty and the absence of economic opportunity. In fact, it was while on just such a mission seeking fair treatment for sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., that Dr. King was assassinated.

The first of these celebrations, held on Jan. 26, was a benefit concert in honor of that 50th anniversary co-sponsored by Grace Baptist Church of Norwalk and Wilton Presbyterian Church and presented in the Wilton Presbyterian sanctuary.

The beneficiary of the concert was the Norwalk Children’s Foundation, an organization that certainly would have resonated with Dr. King. Grace Baptist’s pastor, Wilton’s own Rev. Lindsay Curtis, is the chair of that foundation, which offers an array of programs “from cradle to career,” as it terms it, seeking to “make Norwalk the healthiest city in America for children to grow up in,” as expressed in its eloquent mission statement.

The concert offered a magnificent combination of spirituals and gospel and country music performed by the remarkable Pete Malinverni and his world-renowned instrumental colleagues joined by 10 highly accomplished singers from the 60-member choir of students that Mr. Malinverni teaches as director of Jazz Studies at SUNY Purchase. The result was a tremendously uplifting experience to which the audience that filled the sanctuary responded with repeated standing ovations.

Wilton Presbyterian’s relationship with Grace Baptist has been a long-standing one. Wilton Presbyterian deserves much praise for finding many ways to create joint worship and outreach experiences, not only with other Christian denominations like Grace Baptist (and its own long-standing companion in the church complex, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, of course) but also with other Abrahamic faith traditions. Thus, for example, the joint service conducted each year by Wilton Presbyterian, Reform Jewish Temple B’nai Chaim and the Islamic Institute carries these three congregations to an ever deeper understanding of their many similarities as well as their differences and underscores especially the foundational way in which each of these faiths calls its adherents to work in service to those in need, something that would also very much resonate with Dr. King.

Nelson Mandela

The second grand celebratory occasion happened on Feb. 9 when A Better Chance of Wilton held its annual “I Dream a World” Concert in the Clune Center with more than 100 performers, including 13 ABC scholars and 75 other students drawn from the Middlebrook and Wilton High School choirs, presenting a glorious tribute to Nelson Mandela. While much of the tribute was in music and song, there was also a very moving slide presentation on Mr. Mandela’s life and work created by ABC scholars Zourry Jarvis, Darvin Molina and Zachary Melo accompanied by beautiful dance by the female ABC scholars.

Mr. Mandela’s fortitude during long years of imprisonment for actively opposing apartheid and his ability even to win over his guards to admiration for him would be extraordinary enough taken alone. But his determination, following his release and ascension to political power after apartheid fell in South Africa, to see that reconciliation based on truthful disclosures through broad-based “truth and reconciliation” processes was accomplished instead of violent reprisal is perhaps his most remarkable accomplishment of all and one that, as with Dr. King’s accomplishments using the power of non-violence, many believed simply could not be done.

As in past years, the great organizing force behind this concert is Adrienne Reedy, whose outstanding vocal talents in solos and in wonderful duet with Senior Pastor Dr. Arnold Thomas of Wilton Congregational Church are matched by her devotion to doing good. Another highlight of the concert was the return of Dr. Rollo Dilworth, who offered his inspiring direction to massed vocalists in performance of his uplifting compositions. Meanwhile, in the Clune’s lobby, hundreds of pieces of artwork on the theme of the concert prepared by Wilton’s sixth through eighth graders were joined by the outstanding photographic art of ABC scholar Lia Tavarez.

These events were inspirational celebrations of two remarkable figures whose life’s work has had such a profound influence for good around the world.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.