What began as a class project for about twenty Simsbury High School students has become a multi-year effort that includes a notable documentary film and an ongoing fundraising project that will result in a downtown memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr.
Four students involved with the production of a documentary film that explored Martin Luther King, Jr.'s time in Simsbury, decided last year that more needed to be done to recognize the important role Simsbury played in the life of one of America's great leaders.
"I think a lot of people still don't realize that Martin Luther King came to Connecticut," said Margaret House, co-chair of the fundraising committee.
House, co-chair Nicole Byer, Maggie Willerup, and Taylor Willerup were participants in the production of the documentary and are now working to raise $200,000 to pay for a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.
"We thought we would memorialize what we did with the documentary," House said.
The Simsbury Historical Society has agreed to house the memorial in a prominent location on the property. For the documentary's producers, the location is ideal.
"The site sits across the street from one of the churches where Dr. King sang in the choir on several Sundays and next door to the building that once housed a drugstore where he and other Morehouse students sat at the lunch counter and enjoyed 'milkshakes," according to the MLKinCT website.
Using the research they had done for the documentary, the group worked with artist Peter McLean and architect Jay Willerup to develop a design for the memorial. The result of the collaboration is a beautifully sculpted memorial park.
In January the group received a jump start in their fundraising efforts with a $20,000 donation from Cigna. They've also gathered several smaller donations throughout the year.
The fundraising efforts have included mailing letters, calling local businesses, and drafting press releases for publication. Joan Rogers, an independent consultant specializing in project management and marketing, has also been sharing her expertise with the students.
House said the group recognizes that it could take them several years to raise the $200,000 they need. The project's four founding members will graduate in 2013 and attend college in the fall. To ensure the project is seen through to completion, the group will recruit new members this year.
In the fall they will seek teacher recommendations and begin interviewing candidates. So far, the group has already recruited three new members.
House said they will continue fundraising efforts this year and plan to coordinate some new campaigns to help achieve their goal.
"We have some really talented team members with some great ideas," House said.
One of those ideas is to hold a buy-a-brick fundraiser where donors can purchase individual bricks that will be included in the memorial.
In the meantime, the students will continue to promote the documentary they produced with their former classmates, a project that has blossomed into a long-term comittment.
"We didn't know it would be this big when we started," Maggie Willerup said.
What began as a small school project became a complex production that demanded many hours of research, interviews, writing, videography, video editing, marketing, and countless other tasks along the way. Through their efforts, the students were able to offer a clear picture of what life in Simsbury was like for King.
"It was eye-opening to see how Simsbury was back then," Willerup said.
The film has received attention from local and national media and its producers were recognized for their work at the 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Gala.
Now their goal is to share what they've learned with the community and offer a permanent reminder of the town's connection to one of the nation's most influential leaders.
For more information about the documentary project or to contribute to the Martin Luther King memorial visit the MLK in CT website.