SOMERSET, NJ - For decades the Franklin Township community has been religiously, racially, ethnically as well as, socio-economically diverse. The students in the public schools speak 54 different languages. The community has become more diverse than ever.
In 1997 three community leaders, the Superintendent of Schools Frank V. Pepe, the Board of Education President Eva M. Nagy and the Chief of Police Daniel J. Livak, had the vision to create a wonderful opportunity to bring all aspects of Franklin Township’s very diverse community together in honoring the life and works of Dr. Martin King and fulfilling Dr. King’s dream of unity among the races.
They created the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Breakfast Committee which was composed of various community leaders and citizens. A mission statement was developed and it has been followed ever since. The first breakfast was held in 1998 in the Franklin High School cafeteria with 250 in attendance. Committee members cooked the meal themselves. It immediately gained so much support that it was moved to the DoubleTree Hotel.
For the past few years 400–500 people gather to celebrate and commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They represent various members of the Franklin community- civic, religious, government, police, and educational entities. The ages span from elementary school children to senior citizens.
With this event being aired on cable TV, thousands of community members view the program for several weeks. The breakfast has become a true community celebration – reflecting the richness and diversity of the township while providing scholarships for its Franklin youth. It has brought groups and individuals together who would normally not cross paths. Bonds and relationships have been formed that extend well beyond the breakfast experience itself.
Keynote speakers in the past have come from various backgrounds such as clergy, lawyers, state leaders, educators, graduates of Franklin, TV personalities and others- all who had personal experiences in civil rights, diversity and keeping Dr. King’s dream alive. Their messages were always thought-provoking and helped challenge and reinforce the unity needed in our diverse community and in our lives.
Some past speakers have included, Rev. Dr. Deforest Soaries, Former NJ Attorney Generals Peter Harvey, and Paula Dow, Activist Felipe Luciano, Dr. Randal Pinkett, and Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tiffany M. Williams to name a few.
Since 1998, 197 Franklin High graduating seniors have been awarded scholarships totaling $211,900.
Scholarships are given to Franklin Township seniors, regardless of race or religion, who are candidates at an accredited college or professional school, have demonstrated a record of community involvement and volunteerism, and have shown outstanding citizenship within the high school and community. Each student is also required to submit an essay on “How We Can Keep Dr. King’s Dream Alive.” In receiving this scholarship, students feel that their community supports them, their education and their future plans. There are situations where some students because of family difficulties and challenges would not have had the opportunity for furthering their education without this scholarship.
In order for the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Breakfast Committee to preserve its mission and vision, the Committee members decided in February 2015 to incorporate into the Franklin Township Dr. Martin Luther King Community Foundation, Inc. and has been granted a 501 (c) (3) Public Charity status by the IRS. While it always was an independent Committee, its monies were held in Trust by the Board of Education. Now the Foundation is fully independent and is committed to further and expand its mission:
The Mission of the Franklin Township Dr. Martin Luther King Community Foundation is to fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream of unity among the races through promotion of racial harmony, equality and justice for all, opportunity for building strong relations among all people, educational opportunities and services, scholarships for the youth of Franklin Township and unity celebrations for our entire community.