WEST ORANGE, NJ – “King Day is not a holiday – it’s a holy day,” said Marc Morial in his keynote remarks to more than 250 people who attended the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration and Spirit Awards program presented by the West Orange Human Relations Commission (HRC) on Monday at The Life Christian Church in West Orange.
Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, told those present that King would be disappointed with many things going on in our country today.
“Martin King would be disappointed that there have been between 800 to 1,000 hate crimes since the November 8th election,” he said. “He would be disappointed in the new normal of coarse rhetoric and the finger pointing of today’s politics, as well as by the violence in today’s urban communities.”
On the flip side, Morial said that King would encourage us to look at the progress in the United States regarding race relations over the past 50 years. He added that King would focus on the important work that still needs to be done to build greater tolerance, respect and pride among children, and to instill in them a greater understanding of who they are and the need for them to respect others of all different backgrounds.
“Decency and respect for one another was always central to his vision. We must as adults lead by example,” said Morial, who decried the “bullying” political comments now taking place on Twitter and other social networks.
In his remarks, Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. said he shared King’s optimism that “we will reach the Promised Land,” but also expressed concern about that state of the nation’s politics.
“The incoming President Trump has shown consistently through his words and behaviors that we need to pay attention to what is going on,” said Payne. “It appears that he is not committed to facing the problems that riddle our communities.”
He added that poverty, gun violence and barriers to affordable education are among the problems that need to be addressed.
“I ask you to strive to be the voices of reason and sanity among the voices of violence and hatred,” said Payne. “On Martin Luther King Day, we must renew our commitment to never be satisfied until healthcare is seen as a right and privilege of all people, every public school in America is an excellent public school, every child graduates high school and has an opportunity to go to college, and we have an economy where every man and woman has a job with a stable wage and decent benefits.”
Addressing the theme of getting more involved in community social action, Ashley Buie McFarlin said, “We have to do more than go to Board meetings, join organizations, or tweet out comments on Twitter and Facebook.
“We have to get into the world with love, and we can only do this through service,” she said. “This is a spiritual fight. Martin Luther King Day reminds us that we have to be supernatural about service in order to change the world around us. Please serve, filled with the love of God, so that his service can pour out through you.”
A major component of the program was honoring West Orange residents who work in the spirit of service to others. Spirit Awards were presented to five honorees whose professional and volunteer accomplishments “honor the work of Dr. King to enable all Americans to reach their potential.”
The honorees included Rodolfo Rodriguez, deputy mayor of West Orange; Marley Diaz, organizer of 1,000 Black Girl Books; community activist Jane Gaertner; Henry Hamilton, principal of the Whitney Houston Academy in East Orange; and Mona Scott-Young, CEO of MoniMi Entertainment.
“Dr. King would be saddened about the high unemployment rate in the black community, and that the suicide rate of black boys has increased significantly,” said Sincere Silvera, one of Hamilton’s Academy students. “We have not learned the simple act of living together.”
Serving as master-of-ceremonies was Tammy Williams, HRC chairwoman. Messages from the community were delivered by Township Council President Joe Krakoviak, Councilman Jerry Guarino, and Sandra Mordecai, president of the West Orange Board of Education.
Musical interludes were provided by the Unique Performing Arts Center dance troupe, and West Orange High School student Andrew Scheib singing a stirring rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” Minister Carol Lynn Patterson delivered the Litany and Unity Prayer.