A standing ovation at the Kennedy Center affirmed the outstanding work of Sandra Jackson, the recipient of the 2020 John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, during the Kennedy Center’s annual Let Freedom Ring concert in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.
Under Jackson’s role as executive director for the House of Ruth, the organization fulfills its mission of empowering women, children and families to rebuild their lives and to heal from trauma, abuse and homelessness.
“It is absolutely humbling to get this award,” Jackson said after the event. “It’s not about me. It’s about the children and the families that we serve. This gives a voice to them that they would not have.”
Jackson and her family were sitting with Thompson, the award’s namesake and legendary former coach of the Georgetown University Hoyas basketball team. The university gives the annual award to an emerging local leader to reinforce the university’s commitment to identify talent among the city’s most inspirational community leaders who are working to solve key issues.
Troy Donte Prestwood, an 8A04 advisory neighborhood commissioner, attended the free event and was ecstatic about the recognition of Jackson’s work.
“She is a woman who has been doing great work in our city for a long time,” Prestwood said. “To be over the House of Ruth, doing God’s work, helping women and children, in some cases saving them from certain doom, was the highlight of the evening for me.”
For the duration of the concert from Chaka Khan, the audience was on their feet as she performed songs from her catalog with Rufus as well as from her solo career. She also performed a 2004 composition of hers, “I Believe,” dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
The audience may have been unfamiliar with the song, but the lyrics took a look at self-evaluation and perseverance. A line from the song: “Because I believe, when you look inside you don’t like what you see, you need to realize that you could be, anything in this whole wide world.”
“Here is a living legend who was in incredible voice who came to let her freedom ring by bringing her talents and gifts to share with the citizens of Washington, D.C.,” Prestwood said.
Khan was backed by a tight band and three singers. The Let Freedom Ring Choir, an all-volunteer ensemble of voices from Georgetown University and choirs from across the D.C. region, also backed her on a few songs.
The choir and the larger group of musicians for the evening were under the direction of Nolan Williams Jr., a composer, producer, curator and musicologist who has been the music producer for the annual event for 17 years.
A few months ago, Williams workshopped his theatrical production “Stirring the Waters Across America” that illuminates key events from the civil rights movement. The workshop took place at REACH, the new education and performance venue at the Kennedy. Two numbers from “Stirring the Waters” were performed during the concert.
Williams announced to the Kennedy Center audience that the premiere of “Stirring the Waters” will take place in Nashville on Feb. 28.
For more information about the production, go to neworksproductions.com.