LIVINGSTON, NJ — A surprise guest appearance from Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill on Monday afternoon enhanced what was already considered the Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion’s (LCDI) most successful Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) Day of Service event to date, with record participation from the Livingston community.
In addition to readings of Dr. King’s speeches as well as speeches from Sherrill and Livingston Mayor Al Anthony made in honor of the Civil Rights leader, various volunteer groups conducted or supported service projects throughout the day that included collecting items for the Birthday Box Project, collecting food donations for Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) and more.
“Dr. King’s sermon, ‘A Knock at Midnight,’ is so appropriate this year because it touches upon one of our biggest strengths, I think, in New Jersey: audacity,” said Sherrill. “Dr. King noted on Luke 11 ‘the persistence of the neighbor who knocked in search of bread’ and ‘the need to remain steadfast in the face of challenges.’ Jesus said that if your friend doesn’t help you out because of friendship, he will do so because of your shameless audacity—and so I have said time and again that we here in New Jersey are going to lead this nation as we face this future. We are going to do so because we are going to be persistent, and we are going to be audacious.”
As Sherrill stood before a room full of volunteers that included many Girl and Boy Scout troops, she noted that her desire to serve began when she served as a Girl Scout herself in her youth. She then “answered the knock” again at 18 years old when she entered the Naval Academy.
“There are so many ways to serve, and I am inspired every single day by those who serve their communities in real and lasting ways,” said Sherrill, who 31 days into the government shutdown added that it is Congress’ responsibility now to respond. “We have to look to the example of Dr. King and remember that this country is made rich by acts both large and small of those who serve others. We must bear witness to the fact that progress and reconciliation in our nation lies to our persistence, audacity and hearing from those in need no matter how late the hour and no matter how faint the knocking.”
In thanking the members of the LCDI for the hard work that goes into organizing this annual event, Anthony said he is excited to see more organizations continuing to participate each year, expanding the opportunities for community members to give back.
“This day honors a great man and what he stood for,” said Anthony. “You’ve heard his speeches, his elegant yet powerful words calling for justice, calling for service, all within a message of nonviolence and peaceful protest.
“[King’s] fight for civil and human rights for the most marginalized and oppressed populations in America and around the world is as relevant today as in the 1950’s and ‘60s. His message transcended time, couched in universal principles and love, equality and justice. That is what today is about, to honor him by continuing his mission.”
Anthony spoke of how King inspired his undergraduate thesis in the late 1980s on the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and its mission going forward when “people questioned the need for the CBC any longer.” In conducting interviews and research, Anthony said he came to the conclusion that is best wrapped up in King’s quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“Thus, there will always a need for organizations that help combat injustice and serve others,” said Anthony, who was joined at the event by his fellow council members. “On days like these, I’m so proud to be part of our community here in Livingston and how much we have done. We pride ourselves on being a community of inclusion and diversity built on the efforts of volunteers.”
Other local dignitaries in attendance included Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, who thanked the LCDI for putting together a “marvelous program” that she said is in a league of its own compared to other MLK Day events, as well as Police Chief Gary Marshuetz and members of the Livingston Police Department, members of the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) and more.
Following excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches read by LCDI member Brian O'Shea, LCDI co-chairs Billy Fine and Keith Hines explained why LCDI makes the annual effort to have MLK Day be “a day on, not a day off” in Livingston.
“This year's event was a great triumph,” said Fine. “Our entire committee truly rose to the occasion making this the best Day of Service I have participated in since my start on the committee in 2007…The various service projects reported a greater success in many cases than in the past, our youth participation was at a high, and our quality remained strong for the work our community put forth.”
On behalf of the committee, Fine thanked the township council, the board of education, the distinguished speakers and the various groups who “gave so much in the service of others” on Monday.
“Keith and I are proud to return to our chair positions for the year and to start it off with such a momentous event,” he said. “We will continue to embody the good work of Dr. King and strive toward a better way of living for all.”
LBOE Vice President Ronnie Konner, who is also a member of the LCDI, was particularly impressed with this year’s event and the record number of youth participants that the committee was able to recruit. She credited Hillside Elementary School PTA board member Alyse Heilpern for leading the charge in recruiting the schools.
“The committee worked hard to make sure that we would have the most impact and attract all of our children to this day so that they didn’t look at it as a day off, but a day on,” she said. “Compared to previous years, I was pleased to see the diversity of groups that were here and the participants at this event. It was a wonderful day.”
Fine, Hines and Anthony led an indoor march at the conclusion of the event, where participants joined together in singing "We Shall Overcome."
During the event, Ike's Bagel Cafe provided a bagel brunch while Blaze Pizza provided lunch and also gave out prizes.
The following community groups conducted or supported the projects listed below:
- Boy Scout Troop 16: Supporting other groups and service projects
- Burnet Hill Elementary School PTA: Collecting nonperishable food donations for CHOW and items for the Birthday Box Project
- Charlotte Heilpern (Livingston resident): Collecting pet care products or food for donation to Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter (Bat Mitzvah project)
- Girl Scout Troop 20164: Collecting toiletries for Eva’s Village in Paterson
- Girl Scout Troop 20290: Presenting their “Take Action” project for their Journey
- Girl Scout Troop 20302: Presenting on the importance of taking five-minute showers for water conservation
- Girl Scout Troop 20735: Collecting cleaning supplies for Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors
- Girl Scout Troop 20743: Offering their “Color a Smile” project
- Girl Scout Troops (all): Making stuffed animals for RWJBarnabas Health Youth patients
- Harrison Elementary School PTA: Making cards and coloring pictures for seniors
- Hillside Elementary School PTA: Conducting art projects
- Livingston Kiwanis Club: Making care kits for distribution to soup kitchens in Morristown, Orange, East Orange, and Newark
- Livingston League of Women Voters: Conducting voter registration
- Livingston Lions Club: Collecting eye glass donations and offering free vision screenings
- Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors: Making PB&J sandwiches for CHOW
- Livingston Police Department: Providing safety information, Community Policing engagement, and a Poster Contest to be judged by Chief Marshuetz
- Livingston Robotics Club: Presenting a robotics demonstration
- NJ 11th for Change: Offering civics education, activities, and letter-writing to elected representatives
- The Presbyterian Church of Livingston: Collecting cleaning supplies collection for Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors
- Riker Hill Elementary School PTA: Collection of children’s pajamas and books
- Sanskriti of New Jersey: Collecting school supplies
- South Mountain Troop 28: Collecting new, unopened toys and supplies for the Birthday Box Project
- West Essex YMCA: Making throw blankets for Covenant House