The last time I was in a choir rehearsal was January 2020 as part of a community singing workshop in Cambridge.

It made me want to join a local chorus, but, you guessed it: the pandemic happened. That put things on pause for the Boston Children’s Chorus, too. But now, I’ll be taking the stage with them Monday as part of their annual “Becoming King” concert.

“Singers, and especially children who are singing, they had to wait and keep waiting and then wait some more,” said Irene Idicheria, the chorus’s managing director. “So I really see this as a time where the waiting is done.”

The wait is also over for The Embrace sculpture, a tribute on the Boston Common to the Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, who was a singer herself at the New England Conservatory of Music.

In light of that, this year’s concert at Boston Symphony Hall will feature renditions of songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and tell the story of the Kings’ footprint in Boston, location to location. It will be the chorus’s 20th annual event, marking 20 years since it was founded to give children a place to use their voices for social change.

Ben Wilkinson, a third-year student in the chorus, is performing a rap about Roxbury, where King protested and preached.

“‘Roxbury kids receive the same education as kids in Newton with the same expectation,’” Wilkinson said, practicing his intro. “It’s something like that.”

Students like 17-year-old Saurahya Milien are digging deep into the meaning of the songs.

“Some advice that we receive, like in singing ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’ is like: think of something like a time where you needed a hand or just help or a calling,” Milien said. “And we have to put it into the song, to connect with the song and to be able to sing it with that emotion.”

A teenager with her back to the camera holds sheet music.
Boston Children's Chorus member Saurahya Milien at rehearsal.
Paris Alston GBH News

They also learn about the historical context of the songs.

“We learned about how MLK used to play it [‘Precious Lord’] at every church sermon he went to at the beginning and the end, and how he played it at his funeral and the night before he passed,” Milien said.

Looking on the walls of the chorus’s rehearsal room, they bear many of the values espoused by King. One handwritten poster is titled “Community,” with the words “respect,” “social justice,” and “equality equity” under it.

It’s something Jean Caleb Belizaire has known since he started singing with the chorus at the age of seven.

“These issues that we’re speaking about in the concert and the meaning behind these pieces, it’s stuff that’s still going on to this day,” Belizaire said. “Something we still need to be thinking about and fighting for.”

Those issues range from social justice to climate change, like the chorus sang about during Prince William and Kate’s visit to Boston for the Earthshot Prize last year.

Kenneth Griffith, the associate director of choirs, said he feels the timing of Monday’s concert, on the heels of The Embrace unveiling, helps the students make personal connections to King.

“His desire to bring light to inequity in our school systems; being able to think about where we start marching in Roxbury and all the way to the Common, where we think about how in our last concert and a lot of these singers who were there got to sing with the pastor from Twelfth Baptist [Church],” Griffith said. “To be able to combine that with the 20 years is just, I think, a magical opportunity for our singers.”

And when they take the stage at Symphony Hall on Monday, their voices will sing as one.

GBH News reporter Mark Herz contributed to this story.

Paris Alston is co-host of GBH’s Morning Edition. She will perform with the Boston Children's Chorus at Symphony Hall Monday at 4 p.m. as part of their Becoming King Concert. Find tickets, a livestream link and more information at the Boston Children’s Chorus website.