SUMMIT,  NJ - In celebration of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Summit Area YMCA offered meaningful opportunities for the community to join together in a day of service to give back to those in need and to learn more about diversity and inclusion. 

Shari the same values of honesty, compassion, respect, and service, the nonprofit organization ran a Winter Coat Drive to support individuals in need throughout Union County. 

Younger volunteers, assisted by teens and adults, took part in an annual lunch bag making project known as, “A Child’s Helping Hand,” for Bridges Outreach, Inc. to provide meals to the homeless.    

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Finally, the Teen Diversity Panel demystified the thoughts and opinions of teenagers regarding the current social, political and economic climate in which they are living.
 
At the core of Dr. King’s character were not only his revolutionary leadership skills, but also his dream of a united, multiracial country that celebrated equality, compassion, tolerance, and nonviolence. The Y commemorates his memory daily in practicing his ideals of unconditional acceptance, love, humility, and service.  

On his birthday, as a part of The Shaping Summit Together initiative, children and families of all races and ethnicities came together at The Learning Circle YMCA (a branch of the Summit Area YMCA) and made sandwiches and packed snacks, drinks, and more into decorated lunch bags to send to Bridges Overreach, Inc. With the help of dozens of volunteers and children in the child care center, who ranged from toddlers to school age children, the service project made 754 bagged lunches, surpassing their numbers in 2016 of 550 bagged lunches. Children learned the importance of helping those in need and the impact they can make in their communities.
 
The Winter Coat Drive run at the Summit YMCA collected over 200 winter coats in support of Society of Saint Paul de Vincent bcollecting gently used coats for men, women, and children in need throughout Union County. Teens then volunteered to help sort and bag all the donated coats at the Y, which gave them an appreciation of meaningful action and helping others.


 
The Y ran its final Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event in the Summit YMCA auditorium, spotlighting a diverse teen panel that answered questions from a moderator and from the audience regarding their views on growing up in an ever changing and diverse world. 

The event began with a series of activities designed to be interactive and educational for teens and adults alike. Stereotypes of teens were explored, with participants asked what they thought of a particular teen based on their photograph. Arts and crafts from different countries including China and Africa were also offered so that participants could learn more about other cultures.
 
The Teen Diversity Panel then began with the moderator asking questions such as how the teen panel felt about the future with the new President-elect coming into office on January 20, how they felt regarding the current status of racial equality in the United States, as well as how social media affected their way of communication and understanding the world they live in. The teens on the panel provided intelligent and honest opinions on each topic, which were followed by a discussion with teens and adults in the audience who asked questions to better understand the viewpoints of an often misunderstood generation.
 
The following is a transcript of some of the questions and answers that were given during the panel:

Audience Adult: “You mentioned that hate and pettiness seems more prevalent these days. Where do you think the culture of hate is coming from? I remember a time when in households, we were teaching children to be kind to others, to be respectful of others and their elders. Where do you think this permission to be mean comes from? Do you think it comes from celebrities, social media, reality TV? Where do we start collectively saying that this is not okay, and that we have to unite, respect and be good to one another? What do you think, in your opinion, is a solution to this?”

Nkozi A.: “We should start with youth mixing in with diverse social groups and communities. I used to live in Brooklyn, but then my mom brought me to New Jersey and Summit. She wanted me to have friends that were different from me. I can say that I have a lot of friends of different races now from different places, and some of my friends from places like Brooklyn can’t necessarily say that. It’s important to branch out and learn from others who are different from you, and by doing that I think is a good start in moving forward collectively towards a better tomorrow.”

Moderator: “How can we be more united?” ​

Mariam C.: “I think just listening to each other and being more empathetic is the key. We can all be a little self-centered even if we don’t mean to be, but if we can imagine being in another person’s shoes, or try to understand others, be open to new experiences, then we can all learn more about things that are outside of ourselves and be more educated when forming opinions about others.”

Audience Teen (13 years old): In a country where information is so easily accessed, shouldn’t we be able to choose the information that we read and totally disregard information or news that contrasts our world views, or makes us uncomfortable, or should we take the time to read things that make us uncomfortable or totally on the other side of the spectrum even though we might not care for it?

Tara M.: “I think that being open and able to learn about different opinions and experiences are important. The other side of the spectrum might not be what we want to know, but it might be what we need to know.”

Audience Teen (13 years old): “In states and areas where racism is so deeply rooted in their culture and heritage, how do you deal with the racism that is so abundant, not only in the public but also in the government, how do you deal with systemic racism?”
 
Tara M: “I feel like a lot of that systemic racism, as our generation grows up and becomes adults and is able to go into government positions and actually have a say into what is going on, a lot of that is going to shift. But right now, I feel like awareness and open conversation is the best thing we can do right now.”
 
The Teen Diversity Panel was an exemplary way of observing Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in getting closer to reaching a united, multi-racial country through meaningful discussion and genuine efforts in understanding those who are different from who we are and what we know. Teen Diversity Panelists were also Achiever’s program participants at the Summit Area YMCA, a program that provides free college preparation, tutoring, career workshops, college tours and more.
 
The Summit Area YMCA Staff are devoted to providing impactful programs, classes, and services that help unite and improve our communities for a better tomorrow. In line with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, the Y is dedicated to creating a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for all.

To learn more about the Achiever’s program visit: bit.ly/SAYAchievers
To learn more about Life Skills Preparation and Teen Programs at the Y, visit: bit.ly/SAYLifeSkills and bit.ly/SAYTeens.

For more great events, visit the Summit Area YMCA event calendar: bit.ly/SAYCalendar
 
The Summit Area YMCA is one of area’s leading 501c3 organizations. Our programs and services are open to all through our financial assistance programs made possible through the generosity of our members, donors, staff and partners. To help us help others, please make your donation today at www.thesay.org.