After months of planning and practice, the Cambridge Empowerment Center's end-of-summer celebration last Wednesday faced a last-minute challenge, when rain then a thunderstorm rolled in. But the downpour was never in danger of deterring the event.
"We put on our 'Marching Shoes,' preparing to honor the legacy and spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the rain," recalled Andrew Shannon, who has served as the Empowerment Center's executive director since early 2022.
The center’s programming director, Terri Yorkman, who admitted to being a little discouraged at first by the weather, was more than ready to "bless the Lord," as it lifted in the nick of time.
At the designated hour of 5 p.m., almost as if by divine intervention, the soggy skies turned sparkling blue and sunshine reigned.
Without missing a beat, Pine Street came alive with stirring step, drum and song performances in front of the Cambridge Empowerment Center.
The program, featuring youngsters of all ages and inspirational guest singers, celebrated youth involved in the center's summer learning program. At the same time, the event was designed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy of nonviolent social action.
Shannon, a lifelong member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Civil Rights organization King founded, noted that Aug. 28 marks the 59th anniversary of his historic "I Have a Dream" speech before tens of thousands of marchers at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1963.
Pastor Craig N. Mathies of Zion Baptist Church, in his opening prayer, invoked Dr. King's selfless example of sacrifice. "He laid down his life, so all could live together in America. Lord God, we ask hearts to love one another."
Invited civic leaders and elected officials, serving as honorary guest judges were introduced and invited to comment.
Acting Mayor and City Council President LaJan Cephas thanked all the participants for coming to Cambridge and presenting a valuable opportunity for "kids to come together to do something intentional." It was fitting to remember Dr. King's instruction to "'be the drum major," she added.
Gregory Meekins of Dorchester Elks Lodge No. 223, whose building across the street originated in 1917, spoke of being thrilled to participate in the event as well as support the center's work with young people with a $5,000 donation last year, and a pledge to give the same amount this year.
Mr. Meekins urged everyone in the community to "support our kids, everywhere, in Cambridge, Hurlock, throughout Dorchester County."
Carlton Stanley, president of the Pine Street Committee, offered appreciation to those "doing something new for our children," and expressed hope that the community would help it continue.
In commending the Empowerment Center, Dorchester County Second District Councilman William Nichols recalled the contributions of Councilwoman Octavene Saunders.
"The lady whose name is on this building worked her heart out" for the community, Mr. Nichols said.
Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Christopher appreciated being included in honoring Dr. King.
"A lot of our current leaders could learn a lot from him, by focusing on what we share instead of nipping at each other," Mr. Christopher said, quoting the late Civil Rights leader, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
For over 30 years, Mr. Shannon has been creative director and organizer of the Andrew Shannon Step Show, Drumline and Talent Showcase and the Southeast Community Day Parade and Festival in Newport News, Va.
Although he's accepted another position and will be leaving Cambridge this fall, he is grateful for the opportunity to help "plant the seed" of such an event here, he noted.
From the outset of his tenure, Mr. Shannon aimed to expose the youngsters to the historical African American links to stepping and drumming, through performance art activities and experiences.
"Stepping is a percussive dance performance in which the participant's entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, singing and handclaps. Developed by African American fraternities and sororities beginning in the mid-1900s, it is now practiced worldwide," Mr. Shannon explained.
Longtime Shannon associate Edna V. Davis directed the students in step movement, precision street drills and acrobatics, while Lionel T. Hines, assisted by Sergio Connor, led seasoned members of his award-winning New Generation Drums Corps, along with enthusiastic center novices.
Since 1994, among hundreds of Drums Corps members, numerous alumni have gone on to become doctors, teachers and NFL players, Mr. Shannon said.
Mr. Connor, a bus driver from Brooklyn, discussed the importance of working with the kids using buckets and drumsticks, explaining to the crowd how it's more than a means of musical instruction.
"The hardest thing to do is learning to keep a rhythm, but it helps make you aware of the sounds around you," he said. "I drive a bus. I've got to listen for a car coming up behind me."
Another non-music lesson arrived after a center student couldn't find the drumsticks they'd been given to practice with, and several drum corps kids generously came forward to share theirs.
Gospel rap musical artist Walt Leon Jr., wearing a shirt bearing the words Saved Not Soft, preached a hard driving musical message couched in contemporary song and dance style with an uplifting message, "This is the Day the Lord Has Made, I Ain't Gonna Let It Slip Away."
After Mr. Shannon made it a point to warmly thank the many involved with the event and the center by name, he began marching with the drumline down a reopened Pine Street through the surrounding community, offering one last tribute to King, commemorating his march from Selma to Montgomery.
As he did, and as the crowd thinned out and departed, Pastor Stephen Boyd sang those leaving out with rousing tunes of praise, to the delight of several seniors who stayed glued to their spots, swaying and clapping, and in one case dancing in the street.