SOMERSET, NJ - Nearly 500 key members of the community gathered Monday morning for one of the town's longest-standing traditions, the 23rd annual Franklin Township Community Breakfast at the DoubleTree Hotel. 

The breakfast hosted by the Franklin Township Dr. Martin Luther King Community Foundation (FTMLKCF) is held every year to bring the community together, honor Dr. King, and to raise scholarship money for local school students. 

This year students took on a bigger role in helping with entertainment and facilitating the community breakfast. 

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"Our goal is to continue to bring more youth into this [event]," FTMLKCF President, Sgt. Sean Hebbon said. "In years past we had more politicians and adults here than our youth. Once I became president I wanted to focus on bringing more youth here because that is what we are here to support. It's easier for you to dig deeper into your pockets to support them if you see what you are supporting here."

Maya Vadell welcomed the community to the breakfast by playing the harp. 

Franklin High School sophomore, Kayla Bullock performed her rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and 11-year-old New Jersey Orator, Kayla Hill read her original piece, Hidden Figures No More.

Bullock's performance video below:

Video of Hill's reading below:

Temple Beth El Rabbi, Eli Garfinkel gave the breakfast's offertory and dedication, followed by First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens Associate Pastor, Rev. Errol Cooper's invocation. 

"The key to freedom and justice is education," Garfinkel said. "The three ingredients of a successful American life, are education, hard work, and clean living. Hard work and clean living, those are free, but education costs money, a lot of money. Today, right now in fact we have a chance to give some of our own Franklin Township students the money they need to get the education they need to be truly free. The education that will launch them to their full potential orbit."

Before the actual breakfast attendees were entertained with performances from the Franklin High School Choir, and members Chayse Cotton, Samantha Cui, and Khloe Tyson from the Inspira Performing Arts and Cultural Center. 

New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner, Dr. Lamont O. Repollet was this year's keynote speaker. Repollet spoke about how some educational inequalities can be addressed.  

"Our kids need mentors," Repollet said. "They need teachers and principals, superintendents, and elected officials who look like them, who have gone a mile in their shoes. They need mirrors in the classroom that can reflect our culture back at them to build a sense of self-worth and dignity... Black students with black teachers are less likely to drop out of high school."

Ropollet said these weren't merely his thoughts, but instead, information based on research.

"More likely to increase their intention of going to college, more likely to be identified for gifted and talented [classes], less likely to be chronically absent, and less likely to be suspended or expelled," Ropollet added. 

Ropellet spoke about how Gov. Phil Murphy charged him to help build up a stronger and fairer educational system. 

"At the department, we talk about equity, because we think it is important that everyone not only just have the intervention and support to prop them up, but we need to make sure we go beyond that," Ropollet said. "We call it equity plus. That means removing barriers, creating opportunities and access to everyone, that's equity."

Guru Chakravarty bestowed the breakfast's benediction and contemporary musical artist, William McLeod provided musical entertainment and closed out the event by leading the community in singing Lift Every Voice and Sing and God Bless America. 

The entire breakfast was recorded by students from Franklin High School's media program run by Michael Pinnex and highlights and videos will be published on the https://www.ftmlk.org/ website. 

Since 1998, 197 Franklin High graduating seniors have been awarded scholarships totaling $211,900.

Last year $17,000 in scholarship money was awarded to Kayla Arrington, Nadia Asmah, Jada Bethea, Jordan Davis, Alicia Frazer, Katherine Aguilar Martinez, Dar 'Rosa Mozell, Nicole Rosemond, Damoni Shelly, Arnov Tolat and Danielle Trovato.

This year the goal is to give out at least $20,000 in scholarships during Franklin High School's scholarship night later this year. There is still time to donate to the scholarship fund either online at  www.ftmlk.org or by mail to Franklin Township Dr. Martin Luther King Community Foundation (FTMLKCF) P.O. Box 5684 Somerset, New Jersey 08875.

Scholarship application submissions will start in March, and shortly after the foundation will know how much money has been raised, and how many students will receive scholarships.

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