MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Households across South Orange and Maplewood joined together to light luminaries in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The luminary project was a part of the Community Coalition on Race’s 20th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance Day program; this year’s theme was Community in Times of Challenge and Controversy. In past years the Community Coalition on Race (CCOR) held a program at Columbia before inviting attendees outside to participate in the luminary lighting together.
This year the CCOR observed MLK day with a virtual program broadcast on YouTube Live to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and how the events of 2020 brought racial justice issues to the forefront in South Orange and Maplewood.
“We have seen the power of service and sacrifice in our community like never before,” said Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee. Highlighting the work that was done throughout SOMA to help out families who were the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“It was and continues to be a racial reckoning that transcends law enforcement and calls us to act upon injustice and discrimination in housing, job opportunities, access to education and even health care as we’ve seen communities of color disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus,” said South Orange Village President Sheena Collum.
Members of the CCOR’s MLK Jr. event planning committee also remembered Lee Boswell May, CCOR trustee and lifelong South Orange resident who passed away in April. Village Trustee Summer Jones then announced that the road that connects Mead St and South Orange Avenue will be renamed ‘Boz Way’ in honor of Boswell May.
Ashley Fanka, a member of the Coalition Youth Collective, performed ‘Dear MAPSO’ a spoken word poem addressing the youth’s concerns as they have dealt with racial injustice on top of the coronavirus pandemic.
“So wake up and start seeing what has always been there, we have never been Stigma Free” said Fanka, referencing the slogan adopted by many towns to acknowledge those struggling with mental illness.
The featured speaker for the program was Andrea McChristian the Law and Policy Director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. McChristian spoke to New Jersey's racial wealth gap and how it’s roots can be found in slavery.
“We all can harness the power of community in times of challenge and controversy,” said McChristian, invoking the theme of the program.
The program ended with a chorus of Maplewood Middle School students singing “We Shall Overcome” led by Regina Bradshaw, Cantor Riki Lippitz, Carol Gallo, Dawilla Madsen and Sharon Shepard-Levine.
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