In Hartford on Inauguration Day, Giving Meaning to Freedom

Convergence  is defined as the independent development of similar characters” and “a representation of common ground between phenomena.”  That is precisely how January 21, 2013 will be remembered by those who spent the afternoon at the Amistad Center for Art & Culture and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, programmatic collaborators on a noteworthy day. During a multi-faceted program (dubbed EP150) developed by the Amistad Center that included observations by community leaders and a range of musical selections, the landmark Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary was observed and celebrated, as President Abraham Lincoln was reenacted and recalled. (Including an in-character recitation of the EP.)

First, those gathered from across the region watched live televised coverage of the second inaugural address of PMLKresident Barack Obama from Washington, DC.  They listened as he declared that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” having reaffirmed his oath of office with two Bibles – one previously used by Lincoln, the other by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The historic Wadsworth Atheneum, the nation’s oldest public art museum (pre-dating the Civil War), invited the community in at no charge to reflect on the life’s work of Dr. King on the anniversary of his birth.  The day-long kid-friendly programming included a recorded video of the renowned “I Have A Dream” speech, 50 years ago this summer, played within sight of an audience of local school children – many of whom had just completed a special activity – creating visual remembrances (hand-drawn lunch bags) honoring the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown last month.

They were guided by Americorps Community Healthcorps volunteers from throughout the state.  Special collections inviting retrospection while invoking the memory of Sandy Hook were highlighted by the Atheneum, and musical performances drawing on themes related to MLK  Day drew appreciative visitors amidst the traditional and contemporary works on display.EP

The most poignant moments, given the intersection of historic figures and events, may have come in the poetic words delivered by about a half-dozen local students, winning participants in “What Emancipation/Freedom Means To Me” a competition sponsored by the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission, the Amistad Center for Art & Culture, and the state's African American Affairs Commission, for grade-schoolers through high school.

Freedom, they passionately and powerfully described, is not only historic - it is personal.  The convergence of the day’s events was reflected in the eloquence of their original poems, which had been selected by a panel of local judges resimageponsible for reviewing more than 100 entries.

“Where Freedom Lives,” written and recited by Kassidi Jones, a student at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, vigorously issued a challenge not inconsistent with that outlined earlier from the steps of the National Capitol.  A few phrases of her work convey the tone and tenor:

It is imperative that we all start shattering shackles

Incumbent on every man of every color to crack the locks of the barriers between us

Freedom will not come just because we need it to; we have to want it too

A balance must be established because justice and liberty go hand-in-hand

 And in whichever place the colors of all of our skins smudge into one people

There… there is where freedom lives.

The Amistad Center plans to add each of the winning poems to their website,   The Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission co-chair, Matthew Warshauer, a member of the history faculty at Central Connecticut State University, served as emcee for the EP150 program, which was supported by Travelers.  The Wadsworth Atheneum's Community Engagement Initiative is supported by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.