Tannia Davenport remembers singing as a soprano in the Mount Zion Baptist Church Youth Choir as a teen. Now 29, the singer, along with choir members from 1990 to present, will return to sing together again.
With preparations for the annual Martin Luther King Memorial Service already under way, Davenport, along with the church's music director, Marionette Todd, and a small group of former singers are planning to bring back anyone associated with the choir, from directors to musicians, for this year's service at the Pleasantville church.
Through Facebook invitations, phone calls, word of mouth and "Have You Seen These Children?" announcements posted around the church, Todd is hoping to increase her list of committed returning members from 30 to 100.
Confirmed members, many now in their 30s and 40s and working as professional artists, will travel from as far as Virginia, North Carolina and Texas, she said.
"I'm hoping that we can get them all back," said Todd, a former director of the Youth Choir.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Service, which began nearly 20 years ago as a response to gun violence in the area, has always incorporated a performance by the choir, which in the past has included members from several churches in the area. This year, the returning singers of Mount Zion will join the current 22-member choir of 3- to 15-year-olds for the special service.
One of the main goals of the memorial service, which is scheduled for noon Jan. 21, will be to inspire the youth in the area.
Sharonica Canada, 24, was once a part of that age group and has not sung with the choir in six years, since leaving to go to school in North Carolina. Regardless, she feels excited to be back for a good cause.
"It's a way to give back. The youth see you getting up and singing, and it might encourage someone else to do the right thing, get up and sing, join the choir, whatever it is," the Pleasantville High School graduate said.
"I believe I still have it," she laughed about returning after so many years.
Janae Thompson, 27, still an active member of the church, also is more than willing to sing again, enthusiastic to see old friends, all while encouraging the surrounding youth.
"I think it's more just bringing our youth back," she said. "Just to help out the youth, just to let them know they have a safe haven to go to."
Todd plans to have the reunion choir perform at least four songs together. But her larger plan is to inspire a new young adult choir following the King performance. Todd noted an obvious absence in this age category among active church members.
"Once they come back together and they're feeling good, (I want) to try and get that age group back into the church - to try and get the young people back in the church," she said.
The service also traditionally includes a dynamic guest speaker. This year, Tokunbo Adelekan, an adjunct professor at Palmer Theological Seminary and a friend of Mouth Zion's Rev. Winfred Sanders, will speak to the congregation, addressing both King's dream and the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
"It's very historic," Rev. Sanders said.
The day also will include a youth talent show at 10 a.m., preceding the service. All are encouraged to try out at 5 p.m. on Jan. 2 or Jan. 7 at the church.
Todd also is planning a reception following the service in the church's newest addition, the Win San Center.
Whether the singers are traveling from out of state or Pleasantville, being together for the annual service will undoubtedly feel like home, Davenport said.
"Some of us may not be active here, but we always end up coming back on that certain day," she said. "This is our home."
To rejoin the Youth Choir, Todd urges past participants to come to the scheduled rehearsals, which are at 5 p.m. on Jan 2, 9 and 13 and at 10 a.m. on Jan. 21.
Contact Caitlin Honan:
If you go
Martin Luther King Day Service
Mount Zion Baptist Church, Pleasantville
Noon, Jan. 21
Call 609-641-4337 or 609-214-6815