A singer’s worst nightmare became a heartwarming moment and set the tone for an uplifting 26th Annual Rappahannock County Martin Luther King Jr. Observance on Sunday evening.
Performing before a packed house at the Little Washington Theatre, Linda Orfila of the Hearthstone School in Sperryville was midway through her beautiful rendition of the National Anthem when she suddenly stumbled over the lyrics.
What occurred next was nothing short of inspiring: virtually the entire audience broke into song, picking up where Orfila inadvertently left off until everybody together reached the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Dr. King, no doubt, was smiling down from above.
“You kicked in and we became one,” a visibly moved Orfila told the crowd afterwards. “And that is why we are here.”
Nan Butler Roberts, marking her 15th year as program director of Rappahannock’s MLK observance, expressed appreciation with the large attendance of both whites and African Americans.
“Give yourselves a hand for this turnout!” she said when welcoming the crowd.
Presented by the Julia E. Boddie Scholarship Committee, which each year awards a partial college scholarship to a deserving Rappahannock high school senior, the celebration’s guest speaker was Caressa Cameron, a former Miss Virginia crowned Miss America 2010. (Our interview with Cameron is here.)
Cameron credited Dr. King’s legacy for putting her on the unlikely path that took her from her hometown of Fredericksburg, where she was repeatedly bullied in school because of her physical appearance, to the Miss America pageant.
It was during one particularly difficult period in high school that Cameron realized she’d never bothered to read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. She was so encouraged by the civil rights leader’s teachings, she confessed, that she “ripped the speech right out” of her school’s library book and carried it with her for inspiration.
Father Horace “Tuck” Grinnell, pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in Washington, served as the event’s master of ceremonies for the second year in a row.
“This is a great honor,” said the priest, telling how Dr. King “inspired me in my young life.”
He was a “great peacemaker” during a very tense time in America, recalled the pastor, fighting at the same time against poverty and other social ills, “and for that I take my marching orders.”
Additional performers and speakers on Sunday included the Culpeper County High School Show Choir & Treble Choir, soloist Rachel Cieplak and pianist Kathy Tester, James Hensley of Belle Meade School, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Ludwell Brown Sr., and Lillian Aylor, president of the Boddie scholarship committee.
“This gets better every year,” Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan observed at the conclusion of the celebration.