Judy Montgomery: The Origins of Bowdoin’s MLK Children’s Celebration and Its Importance Today

Library Administrative Coordinator Helen Hill and Associate Librarian Judy Montgomery have organized the MLK Children's Celebration together for many years

Library Administrative Coordinator Helen Hill and Associate Librarian Judy Montgomery have organized the MLK Children’s Celebration together for many years

On Monday Bowdoin will host its 17th annual ‘A Children’s Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’ About 200 children are expected to attend the 90-minute campus program of storytelling, singing, and craft making.

The celebration was dreamed up by Associate Librarian Judy Montgomery, who is retiring from Bowdoin this month after a 38-year career at the College.

As she prepared to participate in her last MLK children’s celebration as a Bowdoin librarian, Montgomery shared a few thoughts about the event.


How did ‘A Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’ at Bowdoin begin?
Judy Montgomery: In 1999, I was thinking that although it was fantastic that a national holiday had been established to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and that schools were closed on this day, kids had nowhere to go to celebrate Dr, King and learn more about the civil rights movement and its principles.

I feel that Dr. King’s message is timeless, especially these words from his “I Have a Dream” speech—that all people would some day be sisters and brothers in a world governed by equality, justice, and peace.

My hope was that in some small way , with the support of the library, I could help ensure that the values that Dr. King espoused and lived by wouldn’t be forgotten by these children. Many of us lived through the years of struggle for the civil rights, but for kids growing up in the 21st century, this was decades ago, past history.

Has the program changed over the years?
JM: We started out in small room in the library. Our first program was presented by Phyllis Fuchs, retired children’s librarian from Curtis Memorial Library who is pro at storytelling, not just reading books, but real storytelling. We got 20 or 30 kids. It was a lot of fun and a great start.

In future years, storyteller, actress, and teacher Leigh Page and fiber artist Stephanie Levy joined us We started to grow, and in 2005, the turnout was so large and people so excited, that we had to move to a bigger room. More recent presenters included children book authors Charlotte Agell and Rohan Henry and Josie Cameron, a talented singer, songwriter and teacher and pure magic when it comes to working with children.

Now we have 200 people coming every year, from Portland to the Lewiston-Auburn area. We have moved to Daggett Lounge to accommodate this turnout.

What was a particularly memorable celebration for you?
JM: In 2005, we had a wonderful program with Jan Spivey Gilcrest P’06, an amazing children’s book illustrator and author. She is a fantastic storyteller. I remember that we made protest signs like those carried during the civil rights movement and the kids marched all around the first floor of the library. We had a ball. I’ve also loved working with my co-coordinator of the celebration, Helen Hill.

What is this year’s program going to be like?
JM: Tai Mirach will be with us this year. Tai is an advocate for peace and civil rights, runs diversity workshops in local schools and was a trainer for the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence. She’s now a teacher and diversity advocate at Buckfield School.

Josie Cameron and Matt Loosigian will play civil rights gospel and traditional music, and then the kids will work on a craft project This year we’ll be making clouds with rainbow color streamers on which they can write their dreams for the future.

In your long career at Bowdoin, do you think the MLK children’s celebration is one of your
bigger accomplishments?
JM: Absolutely. I’ve had an opportunity to do a lot while here at Bowdoin and to be involved in many wonderful and meaningful projects, both for the library and the community as a whole, But the children’s celebration and my other community service projects are very important to me. So when I retire, I’ll just have more time to devote to this!

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