LIVINGSTON, NJ — In commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day, hundreds of Livingston residents gathered at the Livingston Senior and Community Center for the Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion’s (LCDI) signature MLK Day of Service event to contribute to various charitable projects and hear words of wisdom from this year's speakers.
During the event, the Livingston Kiwanis Club assembled kits to support veterans and others experiencing homelessness; Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors put together hundreds of lunches; and Troop 28 South Mountain, BPSA made toys for local animal shelters while several local organizations—such as Livingston Home/School Associations (HSA) and Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA), the West Essex YMCA and the Livingston Lions Club—as well as several individual residents collected donations of food, school supplies, eyeglasses, blankets, pet supplies, winter coats and more for those in need.
“Martin Luther King Day is certainly ‘A day on, not a day off,’” said LCDI chair Billy Fine. “One of many examples of this was how the Kiwanis Club of Livingston tripled what they did last year, and still completed their project early. Another is how Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors created 550 lunches for people in need.”
Fine also made note of the collaboration between the HSAs and PTAs, stating that the HSA/PTA from the majority of Livingston's nine schools were in attendance this year.
Additional projects included voter registration by the Livingston League of Women Voters, an anti-bullying poster contest conducted by the Livingston Police Department, a robotics demo by the Livingston Robotics Club, on-site community surveys with the Vision 20/20 Committee and more. The LCDI also encouraged participants to write letters of thanks to those fighting the wildfires in Australia.
Following a brunch provided by Ike's Bagel Café, Mayor Rudy Fernandez, Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) President Ronnie Konner, LCDI chair Billy Fine and others addressed the crowd.
Fernandez praised Livingston residents for performing services in honor of MLK’s efforts to unite the country and thanked those in attendance for acting as good neighbors.
“Neighbor is not a geographic term; it’s a moral concept,” said Fernandez. “It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.”
The mayor also acknowledged Rabbi Joachim Prinz of Livingston’s Temple B’nai Abraham, who invited MLK to speak to the congregation in 1963 when the temple was located in Newark.
Steve Delman, a new LCDI member, explained that Rabbi Prinz had attended the March on Washington and gave a speech just prior to MLK’s. According to Delman, Prinz spoke that day about how Jews did not only sympathize with, but also identified with what was happening to black Americans in the United States.
As a rabbi in Berlin just before the Holocaust, Prinz said he learned that “silence is the biggest problem,” that America “must not be silent” and that its residents “must work together to ensure equality,” according to Delman.
Councilman Michael Vieira, the new council liaison to the LCDI, spoke of the committee's mission to make MLK Day “a day on, not a day off." He reminded the crowd that the world needs more volunteerism and that MLK Day is a fitting holiday for residents to participate in community service projects.
He also read a letter from Sen. Corey Booker to the LCDI talking about his visit to the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, where MLK was assassinated. Booker explained in his letter that the memorial plaque on the façade bears this biblical verse: “Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
The senator stated that it is up to the people to take up the mantle MLK left behind, noting that there is plenty of work to continue. He urged Livingston residents to dedicate their lives to those in need and encouraged everyone to “scale the mountaintop and reach the promised land.”
Vieira shared a few of his favorite MLK quotes as well, saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter anywhere.”
As Konner addressed the crowd, she reiterated MLK’s belief that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”
She further quoted MLK by saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The time is always right to do what is right. The time is now.”
Konner also shared her experience of being on a teen tour of the southern states at 15 years old with her rabbi, a civil rights activist, in the summer of 1964—the summer that three men, including one black man, were murdered while helping black Americans register to vote.
This year's keynote speaker was former Livingston resident Kevin Allen, who introduced himself as the first African American fire chief in Montclair. During his keynote address, he discussed the integration of Montclair’s schools in 1965 as well as MLK’s visit to Montclair in 1966. As a sixth grader at the time, Allen served as a student crossing guard and recalled all of the students getting along at the school.
“Martin Luther King believed in integration, that people should be together,” said Allen, who also was the sixth black man to join the Montclair Fire Department.
He added that he was impressed by the diversity in Livingston and reminded his audience that “the more interactions we have, the more we see how much we have in common.”
This year's final thoughts came from surprise guest speaker Essex County Surrogate Alturrick Kenney, whose wife, Jheryn, and children stood with him at the podium.
“Today’s a reminder of what sacrifice means,” said Kenney, who attributed MLK’s assassination to “the morality of the country” 51 years ago. “King spent ages 26 to 39 working toward social justice.”
He concluded that the United States has accomplished a great deal since then, but still has a long way to go. He urged the audience to remember all those who died for the advances that have been made.
“We must remember those before us and do something greater than ourselves,” said Kenney as he thanked the crowd for recognizing MLK’s service by attending and participating in the event.
As per tradition at the MLK Day of Service, Brian O’Shea recited some of MLK’s speeches, including his “I Have a Dream” speech, from memory as part of the day's program. The speeches were followed by lunch from Blaze Pizza and an indoor march, during which participants sang “We Shall Overcome.”
As this was the LCDI’s first event of the year, Fine took the opportunity to thank retiring LCDI co-chair Keith Hines, who has served the committee for 22 years and is the kind of person who will “do anything for anyone,” according to Fine.
“My personal message to Keith is to enjoy your life and let the good karma you put out into the world, finally come back to you,” said Fine. “I will miss having you by my side, but I know you will always have my back. Keith will be continuing as a general member, but will be enjoying what is sure to be many new adventures and experiences with his wife, Carol.”
Fine presented Hines with two retirement gifts: Bluetooth headphones to listen to music and police scanners and an alarm clock/charger for retirement naps.
“Every year, MLK Day is important to Livingston, and I’m proud to be a part of the event,” said Hines. “This is my last event as co-chair of LCDI, but I will still be around on the sidelines. I thank my partner, Billy Fine, for a wonderful job.”
Other notable attendees included: Deputy Mayor Shawn Klein and council members Al Anthony and Ed Meinhardt; Deputy Township Manager Russ Jones; Superintendent of Schools Matt Block; LBOE member Pam Chirls and Seth Cohen; former LBOE member George Shen; Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold; Roseland Councilwoman and Livingston's county liaison Eileen Fishman; Livingston Police Chief Gary Marshuetz and Captain Tom Smith; and Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Francione.
On behalf of the LCDI, Fine extended gratitude to his members, all of the community volunteers who attended the event, the many groups who participated, event speakers, the Livingston Township Council, the township manager’s office, Livingston Public Schools, the Livingston police and fire departments, the township communications office and the Department of Public Works.
"We are also so grateful for the continued generosity of our food donors Ike's Bagel Cafe and Blaze Pizza for their continued support donating food for our volunteers at brunch and lunch," he said. "These two businesses have been supporting our committee for years now, and we cannot express enough thanks for their service and their yummy food."