It was a long-ago experience with lasting ramifications.
Leonard Dozier was a 10th grader at Pleasantville High School in New Jersey when principal Noman King asked him to recite Martin Luther King Jr.'s most-famous speech, "I Have a Dream," at an MLK commemoration service.
Dozier was so affected by the recitation that he longed for more -- to become an actor. The principal in turn petitioned the board of education to provide the funding for the student to take acting classes.
"That ignited everything," Dozier, now 40, said. "That's what got the ball rolling."
As a professional actor, Dozier has appeared in numerous theater productions and in films. He starred in a one-man show he also created about Richard Allen, founder of the A. M. E. Church, and in a film about him, Apostle of Freedom.
Dozier has many professional lives: he is a voiceover actor and coach, singer/songwriter, and the voice of NFL, NBA, among other brands.
Since his debut in high school, Dozier has recited King's iconic speech many times.
"It really has occurred to me how much this piece both excites me and scares me more than any other work I have ever done," he said. "You see, each encounter with King -- reciting his speeches -- has led to some really pivotal shift in my life. My sophomore year led me to pursuing the arts. Last year, after delivering this same speech at the Atlantic City Library, I began my faith-based podcast, "Sunday Word," which led me to prepare for seminary school."
This January those plans are now on hold because Dozier is returning to his theatrical roots. He will star as King in Katori Hall's The Mountaintop, a play set on the eve of his assassination in Memphis (April 4, 1968), after the civil rights leader delivered his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech.
The other character in the two-person vehicle is fictional -- Camae, a maid in the motel where King spent his last hours. Philadelphia actress Torez Mosley has been cast in that role.
The Mountaintoppremiered in London, winning an Olivier Award. It opened on Broadway in 2011, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.
There ae other interesting layers to the story of King's impact on Dozier.
He recently voiced a King exhibit for the new Faith and Liberty Discovery Center set to open in Philadelphia next year. He also had "the honor" in 2016 of speaking with one of Dr. King's close friends and associates, C. T. Vivian, after a performance as Richard Allen.
"It's a conversation I will never forget," Dozier said.
"Slightly more off the track" but interesting is the fact that his wife and Coretta Scott King share the same birthday.
"Thus, I can only ask what's coming after more-extensive time spent with King via this play," Dozier said. "I feel as if King has been with me for a very long time."
The Mountaintop, presented by Cineplay Productions in association with Legacy Entertainment, will have its Special Martin Luther King Day Premiere, on Monday, Jan. 20, followed by a performance on Friday, Jan. 24, both at 8 p.m.
Both will take place at the Celebrity Theater of the Claridge Hotel, 123 South Indiana Ave., Atlantic City, NJ. Tickets are $20-$40. Special booth rates are available. For tickets, call 888-660-0285, or visit: bit.ly/MountaintopAC.
Dozier also hopes to bring the production to area schools.