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Martin Luther King Jr. celebration aims to unite the Sioux City community through song

Members of the Sioux City community sing a song at Kingdom Ministries Church at a rehearsal on Thursday.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Members of the Sioux City community sing a song at Kingdom Ministries Church at a rehearsal on Thursday.

Sioux City community members are invited to carry Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy forward by carrying a tune.

An all-community choir will sing songs of healing on Monday at Kingdom Ministries Church at 7 p.m. to honor King’s legacy. The celebration’s organizers hope to promote solidarity and equity in the community through music in the annual tradition.

Local NAACP chapter vice president and one of the event’s organizers Treyla Lee said it is about uniting to recognize the fight for equality. She said the choir itself represents what equity means to her.

“The choir is a great example of everyone having what fits them,” Lee said. “But all have a voice to carry out one note.”

Sandra Pearson conducts some of the volunteer members of the choir at a rehearsal on Thursday.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Sandra Pearson conducts some of the volunteer members of the choir at a rehearsal on Thursday.

The choir will be conducted by Sandra Pearson, whose family has been holding a community choir on Martin Luther King Jr. day since the early 1980s. The Sioux City tradition first began with her sister, but she and her husband soon took over the choir when her sister moved away.

Since then, Pearson has focused on using the civil rights advocate’s birthday celebration as a means to continue on King’s message of equality. She said the community uses the music to achieve healing – something she feels many are seeking right now.

“We’ve been through so much in 2020 and 2021. This country, in my opinion, has been divided on so many levels and to keep pushing for unity and equality is so, so important,” Pearson said. “We don't want to ever stop fighting.”

It’s the first year that the celebration will be held at Pastor Afolabi Ehikioya's church. After moving to Sioux City from Florida in December of 2020, Ehikioya opened Kingdom Ministries Church’s doors in October of last year.

Pastor Afolabi Ehikioya sits at his office in Kingdom Ministries Church. He said he couldn't have built his church without the support of the Sioux City community.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Pastor Afolabi Ehikioya sits at his office in Kingdom Ministries Church. He said he couldn't have built his church without the support of the Sioux City community.

For Ehikioya, the celebration extends beyond the memory of King. It’s a representation of the welcoming acceptance he said he’s felt from every person he’s encountered in Sioux City.

“They didn’t ask me where I came from, they didn't ask me what I have, they didn’t ask me my political affiliation. That was not part of it,” he said. “They just stood up and said, ‘Okay, you want to serve in this community? Alright, we'll help you.’ That's what builds a nation. That's what built this nation.”

Ehikioya said he’s excited to see people of all backgrounds file into his pews – from the county attorney, P.J. Jennings, who will be singing in the choir to the superintendent of Sioux City Community School District who will be playing the drums. He sees it as an opportunity for everyone to connect.

“It bridges the proximity in reaching people and reaching the kind of people that matter. Everybody matters. And to have everybody together in the same place, I believe that could only be God,” he said.

“We don't want to ever stop fighting.”
Sandra Pearson, conductor and organizer

The program will also include community speakers, an interpretive dance and a recitation of a Martin Luther King Jr. poem. Lee said there will also be a call to action for people to exercise their right to vote.

She said she wants people to leave the celebration knowing they have a voice.

“I hope they’re inspired to know that making change doesn’t mean that you have to run for office or that you have to do anything that would be outside of your norm,” Lee said. “There are things that you can do to be involved, just having coffee with a friend and having a discussion.”

The organizers hope that the songs will serve as a reminder to celebrate the diversity of their community every day. Pearson said they’ll celebrate the progress they’ve made and look forward to the work that still needs to be done.

She said she hopes singing together can help the community reach the same harmony as the voices in the choir.

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.