SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Two dozen Springfield residents and community leaders took time to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King’s work and legacy at the Township’s “Vigil for Peace,” honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, January 15, 2018.
In attendance that day were Deputy Mayor Erika DuBois, and newly sworn in Committeeman Chris Capodice with his family.
Mayor Huber and Committeewoman Stampoulos could not attend due to work obligations, and Committeewoman Vassallo could not be present on account of a family matter.
Also in attendance were Rabbi Mark Malluch, of of the Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield, Father Joe Barbone of the St. James the Apostle Church, Victoria Ney of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, and J. David Knecht, Pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, all of the Springfield Interfaith Clergy Association.
Sitting in a circle in the Township Committee meeting room on the second floor, those in attendance took turns sharing what the day meant to them.
Many of the comments betrayed a common feeling that the political turbulence on a national level over the past year represented a setback for civil rights in the country.
The remarks of resident Margaret Bandrowski, who is also president of the Springfield Historical Society, centered around political developments, and echoed the remarks of many others.
“This has been an extremely difficult two years, the ripping off of a scab,” she said, in a reference to the political situation in the country. “It's been very very painful.” She reported her continuous presence at the vigils in front of Congressman Leonard Lance’s office that are currently taking place. “It is so necessary for us to let our leaders know what we believe, what we hope for, what we want, and what we demand from them.”
Judy Copeland, a Springfield resident for over 50 years, had a similar opinion. “The hate and the divisiveness has reached a totally new level,” she remarked. “It's going to take all of us to do something about it, to make a better country for our children and our grandchildren. It’s going to take another generation to clear this mess up.”
Deputy Mayor Erika DuBois agreed with the foregoing observations. “You would think at this point we’ve moved beyond [racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.], but clearly if you follow the news or if any of you are on social media or talk to certain people you may know, we haven’t moved beyond it, and quite frankly I think its sad.”
She called for a need to engage people who have a different view and have “uncomfortable conversations” with them. “It’s not always as easy to talk to people who you know don’t agree with you,” she noted, but that “discomfort breeds change, and until you have uncomfortable conversations, I don’t think things are going to change.”
Others there, who were school children during the 60s, recalled their first memories of Dr. King.
“I remember hearing about Dr. King for the first time in elementary school,” noted resident Glenda James, who grew up and went to school in Springfield. “But for a long time, I thought he was ‘Martin Luke the King,’” generating a burst of laughter from those gathered. “But because of what he stood for, in many ways, he was a king,” she added.
Other eyewitness memories from that time were more sobering, recalling the more turbulent aspects of the civil rights movement. “I was born in Newark, I saw the riots, I saw what happened and it wasn’t pretty, and I saw neighbors who passed away,” noted Laura Lewis, who raised her children in Springfield. “I saw my mom running down the street because she was afraid of getting caught up in it all.”The clergy in attendance offered their reflections from a religious context.
Rabbi Malluch, opened the Vigil with a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel - “There are those who do wrongs in this world, but we are all responsible.”
He reflected on the import of that quote, using a passage from the book of Deuteronomy, “Justice, Justice, we shall pursue” noting that the significance of repeating the word “Justice” twice has been interpreted to mean that it applies equally to everyone. No one is excluded, “and that is one of the reasons we gather.”
Reverend Knecht noted that this year marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and that Dr. King’s father took his name from Reformation Leader Martin Luther
“The hardest thing to grasp is his humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr was an imperfect man, but God speaks to us through imperfect people, and sometimes imperfect people are bringing the truth to us,” he said, adding that “Dr. King was calling us back to our sources, what the Bible teaches us about humanity.”
Many feared that complacency in the current young generation. Donna Clayton, who was raised in Springfield, and after a time living in New York, moved back to Springfield to raise her two sons, captured that fear. “[My two sons] were both in college, and they didn’t take time to figure out how to vote. They said to me, ‘We know that our thoughts and beliefs will be represented, and we don’t have to vote.’ But the fact of the matter is, they need to vote, considering what has been sacrificed in order to give them that opportunity.”
Most of those in attendance who were either raised in Springfield or who raised their children in Springfield agreed that the efforts to implement Dr. King’s vision in the township going back to the 60s started early and remained strong.
Resident Cynthia James, who was born in Newark but moved to Springfield at a young age, observed that after the move “everything was different, but it was harmonious with the message of Dr. Martin Luther King that all people were equal.”
Laura Lewis, who had witnessed the Newark riots, agreed. “I am so grateful for Springfield. My son is a doctor, from living here, from having awesome teachers. They didn’t determine the color of his skin.”