A Salute to Music Educator and Artist Dr. Joan Rucker Hillsman
“It’s a Day On – Not a Day Off”! said Dr. Joan Rucker Hillsman to one of her music classes in the 70’s. Even before the bill was ever passed that the great Civil Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s day would become a national holiday, Joan, as many called her was “working on his dream”, said Danny Queen, renowned poet.
Doc, as she is affectionately known, has inspired generations, helping them to live out and pursue their talents and dreams. Her passion for helping others with her sometimes “laid back” persona, has the tendency of making others feeling comfortable around her.
The “Day on-Not a Day Off concept” was embraced, as she walked into her classroom, and the students were literally jubilant, rejoicing and in high spirits. When she inquired as to what was going on, one student said, “Dr. King’s day will be a holiday and we will have the DAY OFF”.
That became a teaching point for her, as she is known for doing. Her reply was, “It’s not a Day off-but should be a Day On”- a day to “Work on His” dream by embracing his principles and all that he stood for.
“Well, today, my lesson plan has changed. Take out your journals and write why you think Dr. King should be honored for his works.” This project became a school project expanded curricula and disciplines. Essay contests, songs, paintings and signs going up in the building slogans saying, “We are Working on the Dream..Are you”?
This year, 2017, marks the 36th year for Dr. Joan Hillsman, along with others at New Southern Rock Baptist Church, Washington, D. C., (Rev. Rudolph White, Senior Pastor) who has spearheaded the activity, “A Day On”.
It started when she was Minister of Music in D.C., under her leadership, with approximately eight people who decided that on Dr. King’s holiday, with essential workers (nurses, firemen, and policemen, etc.) that they would have a lunch hour showing clips of Dr. King’s life on the screen as they stopped by around 12 Noon for the opportunity to celebrate the dreamer.
The community suddenly embraced the idea and wanted to come as well. The rest is history! Ever since that time the celebration, has expanded to become an Annual Dr. King Day event on his Birthday. The event has now grown from an audience of 8 to-approximately 200 strong, which includes music, poetry, tributes, dance and a wide variety of community participants.
All proceeds from the program were sent to The MLK Center for Social Change Atlanta, Georgia. Since the establishment of the King Memorial at the Monument, the proceeds from this program supports those efforts.
Dr. Hillsman relocated to Syracuse, NY. She is the proud mother of the Head Women’s Basketball, Coach Quentin Hillsman. “She has not skipped a beat”, as far as supporting the community projects and the arts in Syracuse, as one of her supporters stated. She flies in to Washington, D. C. on a 6 AM flight, enroute to the King Monument on the Mall, and then to the Annual Ceremony.
But wait, prior to the time of the King Celebration there, she goes to Atlanta, Georgia (Late Husband’s Home town) to pick up materials and mementos from the renowned Ebernezer Church, to be distributed to schools and community organizations. This is to motivate them to “Work on their Dreams”.
Dr. Hillsman volunteers for many organizations and partnerships in the Syracuse area, including the Annual Syracuse University’s Dr. King Celebration, Harriet Tubman, Community Folk Art Center, and The Gospel Music Workshop of America. Tucker Missionary Baptist Church, Syracuse, NY has now embraced-The Day On-Not a Day Off Ceremony.