MAPLEWOOD, NJ — This year marked the 20th year that Maplewood Middle School has held a school-wide, silent march to honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Township Committee honored the school's work with a proclamation of appreciation at last night’s Township Committee meeting.

Mayor Frank McGehee read the proclamation while surrounded by students representing their school, accompanied by two teachers. The students had opened the meeting by leading the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Whereas, The Maplewood Middle School Michele Turner MLK Silent Peace March recognized Dr. King’s life commitment to fight nonviolently for equality and peace, to promote social justice, and to speak out against discrimination and hate,” the proclamation began, and described the start of the march in the late 1980’s, its development into a full school event in 2000, and its being named in 2011 for a former MMS staff member who had lost her battle with cancer the year before.

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The conclusion read, “Now, therefore, let it be resolved, that I, Mayor Frank McGehee and the Township Committee of the Township of Maplewood wish to express their appreciation to the teachers and administration of Maplewood Middle School, both past and present, and to the family of Michele Turner on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of The Maplewood Middle School Michele Turner MLK Silent Peace March and MMS commitment to honor Dr. King’s message and those who marched for peace and equality in the past and in silence to remind us all how much more work still needs to be done.”

Rich Palmgren, the MMS teacher/team leader who influenced the school to expand the march to include all students in 2000, spoke after McGehee read the document.  “The march has become one of the most important programs MMS can actually do,” he said. “Students every single year are completely silent.”

Palmgren said when it started, parents, teachers, and town officials doubted that 900 students could stay silent for up to 45 minutes, outside when it was often very cold. Yet, he noted, “Every single year for 20 years the students have shown us that they can step up, they can be serious, they can create slogans and signs that will express Dr. King’s continued dream, and they can be silent, and they can show commitment.” 

“I am just a small part of this,” in coordinating the logistics, Palmgren said. “It’s really the students who step up and represent the community.”