Our congregation hosts this service every year, on the Friday evening of MLK weekend, where we honor students selected by each of the area's public/private/parochial high schools. The students are chosen by their schools as best exemplifying the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr - working toward peace, justice, social welfare, etc.
It's a wonderful service, the synagogue is always packed full of the students, parents, teachers, a few senators, and last night the VI Governor was there as the keynote speaker. We sing a variety of songs, always ending with "We Shall Overcome" - especially meaningful for those of us who grew up in the 1960s.
Last night, we sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing" - and I was struck by how many cultures could sing the same words as their history. So I thought I'd share the words here, the poetry that speaks to so many; it has become known as the national anthem of African-Americans, but it speaks to me as a Jewish American, and I'm sure to people of many ethnic backgrounds and many cultures as well.
"Lift Every Voice and Sing" - sculpture by August Fells Savage
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.