FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ - Close to 500 hundred members of Franklin Township's community gathered Monday at Double Tree Hotel for the 20th anniversary of Franklin Township's Community Breakfast hosted by the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Foundation (FTMLKC Foundation).
The annual event was created to bring the township together to honor the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and to raise scholarship money for students of Franklin High School.
Sergeant Sean Hebbon of the Franklin Township Police Department and FTMLKC Foundation 1st vice president performed as the master of ceremonies and kicked off the event by saying:
“Twenty years ago this community began coming together each January to celebrate and honor Dr. King’s legacy, to continue to keep Dr. King's dream alive... Since 1998, the education and lives of 155 Franklin High graduating seniors have been supported and touched by this event and you!"
Many local businesses, religious groups, political organizations, not-for-profit agencies, police/fire, and community organizations of Franklin Township came out to give both their social and financial support. Unity Bank sponsored 10 children from each of the local public schools and Masjid-e-Ali sponsored a table of students from the Jafaria School of Central New Jersey. Franklin Township's school district administrators, teachers, and staff also were in attendance provided support for the breakfast.
Franklin Township's Police Department opened with a Presentation of Colors accompanied by the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" by Dr. Angela Bodino. Zachias Noble, a 10-year-old member of the Somerset Chapter of the New Jersey Orators gave a speech titled "A Montage in Honor of Dr. King's Life" and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Rabbi Eli Garfinkel of Temple Beth El gave the offertory and dedication and reminded the attendees how the breakfast started at the old Franklin High School cafeteria and has grown every since. Dr. Shirin Poustchi of the Bahá'ís of Franklin Township who was awarded one of the scholarships in 2009 gave the invocation and shared a selection of guidance from the Bahá'ís writings and a Bahá'ís prayer.
Eva M. Nagy, the president of FTMLKC Foundation invited various officials to give the attendees a special greeting.
The first to speak was Assemblyman Joe Danielson, who told the crowd "if there is ever a time you need help please reach out to my office, my staff or me personally 24/7."
Freeholder Brian Levine was the second official to speak and awarded the FTMLKC Foundation with a proclamation on behalf of the Freeholders of Somerset County.
Mayor Philip Kramer gave the third greeting and thanked the organizers of the breakfast and urged the crowd to Stand Up For The Other.
"Reject every attempt to separate any portion of decent humanity from the rest, that is the essence of Dr. King's struggle, and the essence of what this country stands for," Kramer said.
Board of Education President Ed Potosnak spoke next and told the crowd how important scholarships are for many students and without them, it would be harder to get the education needed to open doors to new opportunities.
Nagy then thanked and acknowledged many members and organizations of the community, before introducing Dr. M. Ali Chaudry president of the NJ Interfaith Coalition to finish out the special greetings segment of the breakfast.
Dr. Chaudry invited the crowd to take the Stand Up For The Other pledge together as a group, and everyone in attendance obliged. Mayor Kramer and Township Council formally adopted the pledge in the form of a resolution last month, and on December 19 the entire legislature of New Jersey endorsed the pledge.
The Community Fellowship Mass Choir performed "Anthem of Praise" which can be found below:
Frank V. Pepe who was one of three community leaders responsible for creating the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Breakfast 20 years ago was the day's Keynote speaker. Pepe urged the crowd to be bold in their expectations and confident in their ideals and values and to be persistent and strong in their convictions. Pepe quoted Dr. King saying “We are faced with the fierce urgency of now… Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” He then told the crowd we still have time a choice and each other to make sure we stand up for what is right and just.
Reverend Dr. Julia M. Hawks Presley of First Baptist Church performed the benediction for the crowd. Before Dr. Presley led the prayer she reflected on how she was a senior in high school when Dr. King was assassinated and fell victim to racist encounters. “When you think about those things that we encounter in life they don’t make you angry or bitter, they make you better and stronger,” Presley said.
Community Fellowship Mass Choir and the audience closed out the event by singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “God Bless America.”
"Diversity is beautiful, ensuring that we honor each other and hold each other up in dignity and working together is paramount and not only important here in our community but in our state, country and in the world," Nagy said after the breakfast.
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