Celebration honors Martin Luther King Jr.

By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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Leslye Janusz’s eyes filled with tears as the words of her late husband’s lyrics exploded from the soulful voices of members of a Sacramento gospel choir Saturday. The song, “Up on the Mountain,” was one of several ways members of the Sierra Foothills Unitarian-Universalists and Sacramento’s New Home Baptist Church joined together to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Unitarian building in Auburn. The two groups have celebrated the civil rights leader’s birthday together for about four years. This Saturday was a special occasion, however, with the New Home Baptist Church choir the first gospel choir to perform their own adaptation of “Up on the Mountain.” The song was in line with this year’s theme, “One More Step — From Lincoln to Obama.” “He would be just so ecstatic,” Leslye Janusz said of what her husband, Michael, would say if he were alive. She said her husband would be thrilled that his song was being sung by a gospel choir for the first time when it was close to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and on the heels of President Barack Obama’s election. “Something feels right that the song is done now,” Leslye Janusz said. “It’s perfect.” Danetta Jackson, New Home Baptist Choir director, said Saturday was a great day to celebrate not only the change in the country but the bond amongst community members. “We enjoy the fellowship, the purpose of outreach and the idea of the celebration for Martin Luther King, Jr., and the change that has taken place,” Jackson said. Millee Livingston, who helped coordinate the event, said she enjoys the event because it’s come to be an annual reunion. “It’s really wonderful to see all the people from last year,” Livingston said. When John Rogers, New Home Baptist Church pastor, addressed the standing-room-only crowd of more than 100, he highlighted the connection between his church and the Unitarian-Universalists. He recalled receiving a phone call on Sept. 14, 1996, from a Sierra Foothills representative saying the Unitarian-Universalists wanted to donate money to the church after its building was burned down from an arson fire. “God has placed us together so that we might have the fellowship that we have,” Rogers said. Following Rogers’ blessings, the choir took the stage and belted out a powerful version of Michael Janusz’s song. Leslye Janusz said the vocal rendition was “just beautiful.” Meadow Vista resident Linda Cramer has attended the event for the past three years and said the choir music is one of her personal highlights. “The singing is amazing,” Cramer said. “There’s no other place in Auburn where you’ll find something like this.” In addition to songs from the gospel choir, there was a children’s skit, event-themed readings, a praise dance and special cake cutting to celebrate King Jr.’s birthday. Shamekia Fields of Sacramento performed an interpretative praise dance to an inspirational song. She received a standing ovation after her moving performance. Fields said she loves coming to the annual event because of the community bonding. “We are together as a community and we’re sharing our love together,” Fields said. “I’m glad we’re here together as one.” The community spirit is among the reasons why Linda Cramer says she has returned to the event for the past three years. Also, this year her almost 9-year-old daughter Carly was playing Rosa Parks in the children’s skit. Cramer also brought her 7-year-old daughter, Madeline, and her husband, Andy, to the event. “It’s a great celebration,” Linda Cramer said. “I think it’s really nice for the kids to see and enjoy the diversity and the culture.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at or post a comment at