GU’s Let Freedom Ring MLK Celebration Returns to Kennedy Center

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16, Georgetown University’s Let Freedom Ring Celebration returned to the Kennedy Center to present an award in the name of John Thompson Jr. and featured singer Leslie Odom, Jr. — all in tribute to the martyred civil rights leader.

The following report was provided by the university.

Georgetown University honored Paula Fitzgerald, a nonprofit leader who’s expanded support for low-income immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area, with the 2023 John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award during a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center.

The Legacy of a Dream Award identifies emerging leaders who are working to solve key issues in Washington, DC. Georgetown established the award to reinforce its engagement within the city and recognize the award’s namesake, John Thompson Jr., the legendary Georgetown head basketball coach emeritus, social justice advocate and DC native.

Fitzgerald, executive director of the nonprofit Ayuda, received the award as part of the 19th Let Freedom Ring Celebration, an annual public event hosted by Georgetown and the Kennedy Center that honors Dr. King’s life and legacy. This year’s celebration featured a performance by Leslie Odom, Jr., a Tony- and Grammy-Award-winning actor and singer who starred in the Broadway musical, “Hamilton.”

Award recipient Fitzgerald has dedicated her career to providing low-income immigrants with legal aid, language access and social services at Ayuda, a 50-year-old nonprofit. Since becoming executive director in 2016, Fitzgerald has expanded the DC-based nonprofit to reach more than 150,000 immigrants across the city, Maryland and Virginia. Along the way, she’s watched Ayuda’s impact unfold across generations.

Fitzgerald has leaned on her Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate from Georgetown to grow the nonprofit into a $10 million organization. And she has led Ayuda to serve on the front lines in DC as more than 10,000 migrants have been bused to the nation’s capital by the governors of Arizona and Texas since April 2022.

At the Let Freedom Ring Celebration, Leslie Odom, Jr. and The Let Freedom Ring Choir, led by Music Producer Nolan Williams, Jr., performed a musical tribute to Dr. King in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The concert marked the 20th year since Georgetown and the Kennedy Center first began hosting an annual concert to honor Dr. King.

Opening the event, the choir and members of the Georgetown University Jazz Ensemble debuted Williams’s original work, “We’re Marching On!” The piece was commissioned by Georgetown and inspired by Dr. King’s 1965 speech, “Our God Is Marching On!” Georgetown student poets, Cameren Evans, Isaiah Hodges and Lucy Lawlor, performed spoken word accompaniment. Williams also led the choir to perform his second work, “We Are the Ones To Heal Our Land,” a social-justice-themed ballad inspired by a Bible verse.

Georgetown student Naomi Eluojierior gave the night’s invocation.

“As we gather here to celebrate the award recipient, Paula Fitzgerald, executive director of Ayuda, we ask that you enable us, Lord, to work for the betterment of our community and this great nation,” Eluojierior said. “In Dr. King’s words, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can.’ So, we ask that you enable us to be an embodiment of your light.”

Among the songs Leslie Odom, Jr. performed included “Wait for It” and “Dear Theodosia,” which he originally performed in the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” and “Speak Now,” from the Oscar-nominated movie he starred in, “One Night in Miami.” In an encore performance, he ended with a rendition of “Ave Maria.”

“I’ve been contemplating the man, the man’s legacy and what he really left us here,” Odom said of King during his encore. “What he left us among so many things is an example of Christ energy. In his honor, we call his name tonight, we lift him up tonight, we send our gratitude for all that he did. Thank you, sir.”

John Thompson III, Morgan Thompson, awardee Paula Fitzgerald and Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia. Courtesy Georgetown University.

The Let Freedom Ring Choir, led by Music Producer Nolan Williams, Jr. at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Courtesy Georgetown University.


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