BLOOMFIELD, NJ – Bloomfield officials and local dignitaries hosted a virtual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Reverend's legacy, along with the contributions of those that demonstrated commitment to the Greater Bloomfield area on Monday, January 18.

Councilwoman Wartyna Davis, organizer of this 19th annual event and the driving force behind the township’s Martin Luther King Day of Service initiative, hosted the celebration.

“We are here to celebrate his life and celebrate some of our hometown heroes and local individuals,” said Councilwoman Davis.  “I am extremely proud that we completed our Season of Giving where we conducted food drives and made hygiene kits (for the less fortunate), so we try to live the legacy of Martin Luther King not only on this momentous day, but all throughout the year.”

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Davis continued, “we usually hold this celebration at New Light Baptist Church, as I’m originally from Montgomery, Alabama, and that church is much like Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Martin Luther King began his ministry work, but due to the pandemic, we are holding this year’s celebration virtually.”

Also participating in the celebration were Mayor Michael Venezia, Councilwoman Jenny Mundell, Councilman Nicholas Joanow, Councilman Ted Gamble, Councilman Richard Rockwell, and Dr. Djanna Hill-Tall, Chair of the Bloomfield Civil Rights Commission.

“(This) is always a great day, especially here in Bloomfield, where I think if Dr. King would still be alive, he would look at a township like Bloomfield and look at this as what his goal was,” said Mayor Venezia.  “I want to recognize former Councilman Bernard Hamilton who brought the idea of having this day in Bloomfield 19 years ago.  I try to live by Martin Luther King’s words on an everyday basis, and in Bloomfield, we are trying to model ourselves after everything that he meant.”

The celebration included the annual Community Recognition presentation, with Simone Gordon the first recipient.

“Simone Gordon – what you do (for the township) is absolutely wonderful, and we are pleased to have you as a Bloomfield resident,” said Mayor Venezia.

“Bloomfield is a family-oriented town, and we are all in this together, and together, we can create something big, so let’s stick together and help one another,” said Gordon.

The second Community Recognition award was given to Salvatore Siconolfi.

“Sal, of Bella Napoli, is involved in a variety of activities and giving back to our community and family members,” Davis said.  “Sal is a Bloomfield guy, and we thank you for what you do regarding the issues of food insecurity.”

“Bloomfield is a great community, and I am behind you guys 100% with all you are doing for the town and the county,” said Siconolfi.

The first Hometown Hero honor was bestowed to Matthew Arnold.

“Matt’s willingness to step up and host a demonstration and a march (in June in Municipal Plaza in support of George Floyd) in our community made us proud,” Davis proclaimed.

“What you did in June was absolutely wonderful and we truly appreciate it,” Venezia added.

“I felt like I was able to voice my opinion and step up during a time when my town needed someone to step up, and we needed to use our voice like our ancestors had,” Arnold said.

The next Hometown Hero award was presented to Tina Otto Cochran.

“Tina, thank you for what you did for our outgoing Bloomfield High School seniors last year, as it was great that the community came together,” said Davis.

“I just wanted to help the seniors, as it wasn’t a great year for them, and I wanted to help put a smile on their faces,” said Cochran.

The final Hometown Hero honor went to Laurie Venezia.

“Laurie had the idea to create and sell signs to show support for first responders, and use the revenue associated with the signs to support the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network to help needy families.  This was one exercise that an individual decided to do that that a significant impact,” Davis remarked. 

“The idea really took off, as over 400 signs were sold and it was really nice to give back to the community,” said Laurie Venezia.

More than $4,500 was donated from the sales of the recognition signs.

Dr. Djanna Hill-Tall revealed the award winners for the student essay contest.  This is the sixth year of the essay contest, with over 70 submissions received this year.

Dr. Danielle Wallace, an associate professor at William Paterson University, delivered the keynote address on the topic of student justice.

“This is certainly a unique time to be alive – as a country we have faced some interesting events as of late and that is putting it mildly,” Wallace commented.  “I’ve often thought about the lessons we could learn from Martin Luther King during this time, even 53 years after his assassination.  As always, Dr. King could see things others could not.  Racism, like water, takes the shape of whatever holds it.  The fires of inequality still burn.”

Reverend Vernon Miller led the Invocation and the Benediction.

The Township of Bloomfield began its annual community-focused Season of Giving on Thanksgiving, continuing through this past Saturday’s Day of Service.  The Day of Service Committee joined student and community volunteers in creating over 600 hygiene kits for needy individuals.

The committee also conducted three food drives collecting non-perishables for local pantries.