Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity Celebrates its Opening

By Rina Castro

A new chapter begins in the history of Montgomery County as the Charles W. Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity opens and brings the promise of a new future, celebrating different backgrounds. There was no better way of celebrating this event than the incorporation of sign and song.

The day's festivities included speeches from County Executive Doug Duncan and United States Senator Paul Sarbanes, to name a few. But it could not have started more right than with the National Anthem sung and signed by the Fabulous Flying Fingers, led by Barnsley Elementary School Choral Director Teri Burdette. The children's performance left most spectators breathless.

Says Miss Burdette, "[Charles] loved all people and wanted to bring them together. That is what the message of the Fabulous Flying Fingers does. It talks to all different kinds of people." The nationally acclaimed group started out in 1980 when Barnsley Elementary School accepted a program for the deaf. Miss Burdette came up with the idea of offering a program that integrates sign language and songs. The first group had only 12 members, but ever since then the Fabulous Flying Fingers has grown and currently has 137 members.

The group that performed was the fifth grade class of 2000 who were enthusiastic to join in the celebration of diversity. Adds Miss Burdette, "I think that our school, which is very diverse, along with the songs the boys and girls sang and signed spoke the issue and the being of the...Center." The group has been awarded a national citation from the National Council of Communicative Disorders for Outstanding Service and has performed for the likes of UNICEF to former President and Mrs. Clinton. Following the National Anthem, the group then presented "America the Beautiful...the Dream." But the performance that earned them a standing ovation was "Love in Any Language."

Says one observer, "The song fit so well with the theme of the celebration. The sign language was also very powerful. I literally had tears in my eyes." After the Fabulous Flying Fingers performed, other artists presented acts from different cultures that the spectators also enjoyed. The various artists ranged from traditional Chinese dance to Persian dance with a new-age music twist.