A&M-Commerce’s New Beginnings Multicultural Gospel Choir took the stage in Birmingham, Ala., on the Day of Commemoration—the culmination of the city’s Empowerment Week on Sunday, Sept. 15, in Railroad Park. The week was one of Birmingham’s several special events in a year-long observance of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.
As invited guests of Birmingham’s mayor, William A. Bell, New Beginnings performed three selections, including “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as “The African American National Anthem.”
With the assistance of A&M-Commerce alumni Frank and Rosalie Turner, the choir visited Birmingham earlier in the summer on a tour that also took them to Selma and Montgomery, Ala., to view landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement. New Beginnings sang in all three cities, including at the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan on Sept. 15, 1963, resulting in the deaths of four black girls. The Day of Commemoration marks this event.
After an impromptu performance from New Beginnings during their tour, Bell extended the offer for the choir to return to sing during Empowerment Week.
A&M-Commerce President Dan R. Jones joined the choir in its travels to Birmingham on this and the previous occasion. Jones spoke of his experience on the earlier trip in the September edition of KETR’s The President’s Perspective.
“It was a deeply compelling experience for me to be in their presence as history became a part of their lives,” said Jones. “It was an amazing and unexpected joy to be invited to become a part of the national celebration.”
Veronica Reed, director of A&M-Commerce’s TRiO program, and Alumni Relations Director Derryle Peace coordinated the travel and performance arrangements for New Beginnings and accompanied the choir on their return to Birmingham.
“It’s a very exciting time for us—Texas A&M University-Commerce—and the students of New Beginnings,” said Reed. “We are honored to be here. We are honored by the mayor of Birmingham for asking our choir to come and be a part of this historical event.”
In the Sunday concert, the members of New Beginnings were surrounded by noted performers, including American Idol season five winner Taylor Hicks and season 11 contestant Jeremy Rosado, Alabama blues icon Henry “Gip” Gipson and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
New Beginnings member Danyelle Butts said that she and her fellow choir members initially questioned their place in this event.
“It is a privilege to be able to partake in all of the activities and festivities going on to commemorate what happened,” said Butts. “But we felt like, ‘Who are we that we were invited back?’ That was a big deal.”
New Beginnings’ Railroad Park performance was met with positive feedback from spectators, many of whom shouted compliments and stopped to take photos with the choir before the members boarded their bus back to Texas.
Butts says that being a student at A&M-Commerce was a key factor in making these trips to Birmingham possible.
“Being a Lion was instrumental in making sure that we were able to get here […] to be able to partake in a part of our culture that we never had a chance to learn about,” Butts said. “It was instrumental in teaching us about who we are.”
For more photos, check out the flickr set.