Durham County

MLK CHOIR: City-county workers unite voices

Rachael Riley; rriley@heraldsun.com

UPDATE: 9:45 a.m. Tuesday: An earlier version of this story stated times of  the City-County Martin Luther King Jr. Employee Observance Program. County officials announced late Monday that Wednesday's program is cancelled due to weather. The story has been updated to reflect the change.

DURHAM -- As the recent cold front ventured into Durham over the weekend, voices of city and county workers harmonized in the First Presbyterian Church sanctuary.

Members of the volunteer Durham City-County MLK Employee Choir gathered around a piano during their lunch break to sing verses proclaiming “in all the Earth -- he’s so excellent.”

It was the second of the choir’s practices of 2017 and prepared the choir for its performance at the 12th annual City-County Martin Luther King Jr. Employee Observance Program Wednesday.

County officials announced late Monday the program is cancelled due to weather. Yet choir members said they still enjoyed the camaraderie Friday.

By day, Evelyn Edwards is an administrative coordinator in the mayor’s office. On Friday, she stepped into the role of the choir director -- one she assumed about nine years ago at the request Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, who knows about Edwards’ passion for singing and directing that she’s held since she was 16.

“We come together as a unit,” Edwards said. “City-county employees who do sing together -- we enjoy singing. The majority of them just love singing. It’s become a venting area, a prayerful area, a rejoicing area that’s lifted up various employees.”

The choir is about as old as the city-county MLK observance -- originating as the police choir, but then opening up to all city and county employees.

Tony Noel is a human relations manager for Durham County and has been a county employee for 28 years. While working to obtain his master’s degree he noticed a flier offering a county job and applied two hours before the position closed.

One of his friends asked him about joining the choir several years ago.

“I come from a family of singers,” Noel said. “Singing was like talking I started young.

One of the things is I like the coming together of the city and the county is you meet these people, and you become friends and so you look forward to coming together for one common cause.”

Kimberle Walker has worked for the city for 20 years -- spending the last decade with the police department, and is currently a senior public affairs specialist.

Like Edwards and Noel, Walker loves singing.

“This is a good fellowship because a lot of us don’t get to see each other except for this observance each year, so this is kind like a reunion of sorts for some of us we come together and we have fun,” Walker said.

What the choir represents and observes holds meaning to Walker, too.

Originally from Atlanta, she went to Frederick Douglass High School and attended school with some of King’s children, his youngest daughter, Bernice King, in particular.

“I have a unique perspective for the King holidays, having grown up with familiarity with the family as well as his birthplace, Ebenezer Baptist Church and the whole civil rights movement,” Walker said. “It’s been an integral part of my upbringing, so it was important to me to maintain those types of connections and proactive celebrations of the observance.”

The Rev. Michael Page, a former county commissioner and pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, helped organize the local observance for city and county employees 12 years ago.

“ I thought it was important for city and county employees come together and share in the mission and philosophy of Dr. King to continue uphold that and serve citizens of community,” Page said. “One of the the things Dr. King stood for was the elimination of hatred in communities and promotion of love, and I think we should never lose sight up that.”