By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
The spirit of Christmas was on full display Dec. 8 at Livingstone College as about 150 Rowan County residents were treated to a Christmas dinner and two men were awarded scholarships to enroll in the school’s Culinary Arts program.
The Community Christmas Dinner in the Events and Hospitality Center was the precursor to “Miracle on Monroe Street,” a Christmas concert in Varick Auditorium that featured Salisbury Symphony Orchestra members, a live nativity scene and outstanding musical and theatrical performances by Livingstone College students, faculty and staff.
Both events were the brainchild of Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr., who wanted this year’s Christmas concert to be unlike any Salisbury residents had seen before.
“Led by Dr. DaVaughn L. Miller, our music and theater department does a fine job each year with the annual Christmas concert, but this year I wanted to offer the public a Christmas extravaganza,” Jenkins said. “From the moment attendees walked inside Varick Auditorium and saw the marquee displaying ‘Miracle on Monroe Street’ they could sense they were in for a treat. Our music and theater students did an excellent job of telling the Christmas story, and Miller and his staff did a superb job of preparing them. The symphony members added just the right touch, and my senior staff and other Livingstone employees worked diligently to ensure success.”
Hundreds filed into Varick Auditorium on Dec. 8 to witness “Miracle on Monroe Street,” including Sheila and Tony Whitaker and their son, Joshua. The Whitakers live in High Point, where Joshua is a senior at Southwest Guilford High School.
“I thought the concert was good, and my husband who doesn’t normally attend Christmas concerts said he thought it was good before I even had a chance to say it,” Mrs. Whitaker said. “The concert choir, the orchestra and whoever choreographed it did a good job. I also liked the dancers in the audience and that we were invited to participate, which made it engaging. Josh really paid attention to the choir and orchestra because he’s interested in a music career, and he easily related to the man and his grandson.”
“Miracle on Monroe Street” opened with town crier Marquita Lester, who encouraged the audience to let their imaginations take them back in time. “Do you know some people have forgotten why we even celebrate this miraculous season,” she said.
As Lester exited the stage, the lights shone on Rajheim Fulton and Eric Mack, who played an old man and his grandson, respectively. Fulton sat in his rocking chair discussing the true meaning of Christmas with Mack, who obviously cared only about getting the latest electronic devices. Yet as the show went on, it became apparent the boy’s attitude had changed.
“Grandpa, I get it! I get it,” he said excitedly. “A miracle happened that night that’s better than any cell phone or iPad. Christmas is not in our things. It’s in our hearts.”
Theater arts instructor Michael D. Connor said he incorporated technology into the show because he knew it would resonate with young people – like Joshua for instance.
Connor was among several Livingstone employees who worked tirelessly to pull off “Miracle on Monroe Street.” Others included Dr. Herman J. Felton, Jr., senior vice president and vice president of institutional advancement, who helped transform Varick Auditorium into a Christmas wonderland and also purchased bulbs for the Christmas tree, State W. Alexander, executive assistant to the president, who coordinated logistics, Sidney C. Sessoms, Jr., director of bands, who served as concert conductor, Dr. Joanne K. Harrison, associate professor of sacred music, who served as the accompanist, David Palmer, a music instructor who directed the ceremonial brass ensemble that played during the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, Teresa A. Moore-Mitchell, an assistant professor of voice and professional opera singer, who gave a rousing performance of “O Holy Night,” and, of course, Miller.
Livingstone graduate Le’Sondra Brown wowed the crowd with “Mary Had a Little Baby”. Impressive performances were also given by student soloists Torian Parker, Alexis Soloman, Dairon McGraw, Tyquan Alston, Angelica Steele and Quentin Bethea. Bethea, who directs the college’s Gospel Choir with Owen Forbes, brought some to their feet with his rendition of Luther Vandross’ “With a Christmas Heart”.
The concert followed a Christmas dinner in the Events and Hospitality Center that was organized by Vivian Ray, director of Livingstone’s Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts program. Terri Oliver served as banquet manager for the dinner. Wilson Cherry of Rowan Vocational Opportunities, Inc., Lt. Josh Morse of The Salvation Army of Rowan County and Beverly Kerr of Healthy Link Healthy Families Rowan assisted Livingstone in getting the families to campus on Sunday, where they were served cranberry and orange-glazed ham, Au-gratin potatoes, green bean casserole, citrus salad with mixed greens, orange and pineapple slices and red onions garnished with brie cheese and apricot jam, rolls, corn muffins, bread pudding and sweet potato and banana shooters topped with whipped cream.
The menu was planned by culinary arts student Rebecca Pendergrass, a line chef at The Country Club of Salisbury and a 2012 culinary arts scholarship recipient.
“I hope you enjoy this,” Pendergrass told the guests before the meal. “It’s really a fantastic opportunity, and just to see you all out here warms my heart.”
Among those serving guests were Jenkins, members of his senior staff and other Livingstone College faculty, staff and students. Also serving were Bishop George E. Battle, Jr., Senior Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Chairman of Livingstone’s Board of Trustee, and his wife Iris.
“This is a tremendous day, and I’m so excited about you being here because this is the season of giving,” Jenkins said before telling the audience that Battle “has a very big position but wants you to know he’s not too big to help serve.”
Battle gave thanks to God and commended Jenkins for his leadership and vision.
“You’re here today because God loves you and you’re special,” Battle said. “It might be that you’re down on your luck right now, but next year you might be in a position to help and serve others. Christmas isn’t about stuff. It’s about Jesus Christ being the center of your life.”
After serving some guests, Mrs. Battle joined Jenkins’ wife Dr. Faleese Moore Jenkins at the head table to enjoy the event. Before dinner ended, Cornell Roseborough and Timothy Gray were announced as this year’s culinary arts scholarship recipients, and Santa Claus – senior business major Dorian Edwards – delivered Walmart gift cards to the children.
Before Santa’s arrival, Tallya Rhodes of Salisbury sat in her seat reading “Shiver” by Maggie Stiefvater. The North Rowan Middle School eighth grader attended the dinner with her twin sister, Tahliya, older sister, Rahsheda, and their mom Sebrena Gaither.
“I’ve seen events like this on TV before but I’d never gone to one in person until today,” Tallya said. “It’s really nice because not many people get to do things like this. I loved it, and it was so much fun.”
Ashley Bass of Granite Quarry attended the dinner with her children Chloe Miller, 11, Layla Bass, 6, Jonathan Spittle, 4, and Peyton Spittle 3.
“I think this is very good because it’s nice to let people eat,” Chloe said.