DOVER — Under a spotlight in a Polytech High School recording studio, John G. Moore Sr. went into character, delivering the words of Martin Luther King Jr. with the same cadence, rhythm and passion.
“… even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream … ”
The Rev. Dr. Moore was channeling Dr. King for years before students and parishioners and even civil rights leaders that once stood alongside his spiritual mentor.
“… I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … ”
The Delaware State News arranged for the Rev. Moore’s visit to the Polytech broadcast media studio where seniors Maureen Iplenski and Torie Seagraves recorded the dramatic end of the “I Have a Dream” speech and an interview that are included with this column.
The interview was set up to advance “African American History Live” — a citywide black history celebration — that will start at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, in the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center, 39 S. West St., Dover.
The program is sponsored by the Delaware State News and Chesapeake Utilities. Admission is free.
Mr. Moore will be among the presenters.
“Well, you know, every singer has a great hit and Dr. Martin Luther King’s greatest hit, I believe, was ‘I Have a Dream.’ It was the greatest speech he ever gave,” said Mr. Moore. “That’s the speech I will be presenting at that event.”
Additionally, there will be music and presentations on the arts, drama, style and more.
“We decided to put this program together and make it unique,” said Mr. Moore. “It wouldn’t just deal with the great characters — Martin Luther king, Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. But it would deal with local talent talking about the very history right here in Kent County in Delaware.”
Since the start of the year, Mr. Moore has made more than 30 appearances to portray King.
In the past week, he was at Nellie Stokes Elementary in Camden and St. Johns Lutheran School in Dover.
At St. John’s, the students range in ages from 4 to 14.
“The little guys are just as intrigued as the 14-year-olds,” said Dina Vendetti, principal of St. John’s. “He lifts his enthusiasm and it’s contagious. Everybody can relate to having a dream.
“Sometimes I look over in chapel time and there are kids spinning around on their carpet square instead of paying attention. That never happens when John is there. They’re all in, so intrigued.”
He said he enjoys sharing the DREAM, an acronym that helps him get across a message to kids. DREAM represents dedication, resiliency, enthusiasm, attitude and motivation.
“I tell them that they can be DREAM achievers,” said Mr. Moore. “No matter where you come from, no matter the color of your skin, no matter what your economic situation is, if you believe in yourself, you can make your dreams become a reality.”
Mr. Moore said when he visits youth detention centers he shares his own stories. He grew up in Strawberry Mansion, a tough area of inner city Philadelphia where there were gangs and his brothers were drawn into trouble.
“That’s where the word ‘resilient’ means a lot,” he said. “Instead of coming up with excuses, I was fortunate enough to have several people who became my mentors and spiritually Dr. Martin Luther King became one of those mentors.
“I felt hope through his words,” he said.
He went on to attain college degrees, spent 20 years in the military and now serves as a vice president for United Way of Delaware. He also serves as a youth minister for Calvary Baptist Church in Dover.
“If I can achieve that from the humble beginnings I came from, there’s nothing that’s stopping you,” he said of his message to troubled kids. “You can achieve anything. Because I’m so transparent in that story, the young people believe it and they find it relevant. They say, ‘You know what, I’m going to stop making excuses. If Dr. Moore can work that hard and make his dreams come true, then I can do the same thing.’”
Mr. Moore said he enjoys the results of his visits with students, sharing the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister who advanced civil rights with nonviolent civil disobedience.
“Through my presentations, history comes alive for them,” he said. “They become curious and they want to know more.
“Even in 2017, children will ask questions about the bus boycott (in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955) and the March on Washington,” he said. “Those things are still very important to them.”
Mr. Moore said the messages remain relevant today.
“Many of the things were dealing with in 2017 were very similar to what we dealt with in the Fifties and Sixties,” he said. “As he went around, he talked about discrimination, he talked about segregation, he talked about equality. We’re still dealing with a lot of those issues today. We want to make sure our children all have a great opportunity for an education, people have a chance to get jobs, and families are secure.”
Even though he has been delivering King speeches for about 26 years now, Mr. Moore said he still practices regularly. If you pass him on the highway, you’re likely to see him rehearsing the “Drum Major Instinct” or “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” in triple time.
Time, though, has led him to see his work differently.
“You would think that after a while, it gets a little trite because you’ve done it so often,” Mr. Moore said. “Even with the audiences, many of them have heard me four or five times, but it’s very spiritual.
“It’s almost at this point in my life that his spirit is coming out of me. I really felt that at a presentation just recently. When I was giving it and the words were coming out, I felt like it really wasn’t me talking.
“It was Dr. King talking.”
The baritone voice and the cadence and rhythm of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. certainly come through.
“He’s a very spiritual man himself and has a really strong faith,” said Ms. Vendetti of the Rev. Moore. “The message that he’s getting across is more than just appropriate behavior in terms of civil rights. It really strikes at the moral core of who we are as God’s people.
“When he gets into that mode, it really connects. It’s more than just a fabulous presentation, it’s a spiritual experience.”
The finale, of course, isn’t lost on Mr. Moore.
He mimics King’s style of phrase repetition into the crescendo.
“…and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
“Free at last! Free at last!
“Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Reach editor Andrew West at email@example.com