West Orange Human Relations Commission Celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday With Annual Program

(L-R) HRC member Greg Bullock, Doug Adams, Honoree Ken Mandel, HRC MLK Chair Althia Tweiten, Honorees Tekeste Gebremicael, Alice Hoffman and Josie Velez. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Front (L-R) Alice Hoffman, Ken Mandel, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, HRC member Jane Gaertner. Back (L-R) HRC members Sonny Lerum, Greg Bullock, Youssef Wadih, Heather Payne, Alex Deronde, Michelle Cadeau, Dagmar Hobson, Althia Tweiten, Mayor Rob Parisi, Tekeste Gebremicael, Josie Velez, HRC member Amy Rosenthal, Doug Adams, Zal Velez. Credits: Evan Cumming
Council President Victor Cirilo welcomes residents. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Jazz Vocalist Jan Carden performs. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Nia Sorbino performs. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ – As President Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term on Monday, and in the year America celebrates not only the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation but 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the West Orange Human Relations Commission presented their annual Martin Luther King, Jr. event, entitled “Moving Forward With the Dream.”

More than 100 residents turned out Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 21 at St. Joseph’s Parish House to hear Keynote Speaker, Sharon Robinson-Brigg, Mayor of Plainfield, and to recognize four West Orange residents that have helped to embody the spirit and vision of Dr. King in West Orange.

Pastor Douglas Adams, chairman of the West Orange Human Relations Commission, welcomed residents and honorees as he compared them to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., noting that both were "ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, producing outstanding work."

Sign Up for E-News

Chairman Althia Tweiten opened the program and introduced West Orange resident and jazz vocalist Jan Carden, who performed “Hero.”

Council President Victor Cirilo applauded the work of the WOHRC, now in its 20th year, and echoed King’s sentiments that one day, "we will live in a nation where (we) will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Robinson-Briggs then shared her thoughts on King and his dream, which he followed through non-violent social change. She recalled several incidents over the past 100 years that spoke of racial tension and violence in America and legislation that began to provide civil rights to all citizens. She recounted King’s path leading to his assassination in Memphis at the Lorraine Hotel on April 4, 1968. She spoke of how now, his dream "lives on in all of us…we are standing on the shoulders of giants."

Robinson-Briggs spoke of her own experiences with racism, describing being spat at and called names by a police officer in Piscataway when she was in middle school. In high school, her basketball coach took her to McDonalds when the team finally won a game, and thanked her for the opportunity to get to know her. 

The coach explained that Robinson-Briggs had helped to show her a different way to look at black people, and to change her perceptions. She told Monday's audience that the incident helped to heal her, and ended by admonishing the audience to fight for our youth… that they are the future and should not be lost to the perils of gangs, guns and drugs. She noted and applauded the diversity of the West Orange community.

Nia Sorbino, a middle schooler at Roosevelt, performed “Someone Like You,” accompanying herself on the piano.

Tekeste Gebremicael, born in Ethiopia and long-time resident of West Orange, was the first honoree.  Gebremicael owns Cass Realtors and the President of the West Orange Rotary Club; former President of the Chamber of Commerce in town, as well as other organizations. He said he is happiest when he serving his community. 

Alice Hoffman is the Food Pantry Coordinator at Holy Trinity-West Orange Food Pantry.  She has lived in town for 30 years and been with the food pantry since it opened 11 years ago.  The pantry helps to provide food for 400-500 people a month, and she calls them "my people."

Vocalist Jan Carden once again sang, and performed “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Greg Bullock, MLK committee member, introduced Ken Mandel, the next honoree. Mandel is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and currently runs the West Orange Classic Film Festival, playing at AMC Essex Green on Sundays at 2 p.m. through February.  He is also involved with Edison National Historic Park and the West Orange Arts Council.

The last honoree was Josie Velez, who is a member of the West Orange Public Relations Commission and community activist. Velez has been a resident of West Orange for decades and is a registered dietician and advocates for wellness and preventative healthcare.

After Nia Sorbino played an instrumental solo, Pastor Adams closed the program, thanking residents for their attendance, and encouraging them to continue building for tomorrow. He reflected upon his own past and how his original vision of change could be accomplished differently, by "loving one another."

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

West Orange

Free Flavors Soft Serve Ice Cream (Jr. Cup or Cone) With Coupon

May 23, 2018

Fairfield, NJ - Flavors Homemade Ice Cream is offering a FREE soft serve ice cream (jr. cup or cone) when you spend $10 or more with coupon.

Flavors Homemade Is located at 653 Rt 46 West (1.98 mi) in Fairfield, New Jersey 07004 next to Jose Tejas.

*Homemade Ice Cream

*Italian Ice


*Fresh waffles 

*ice ...

Evolve Cycle And Fitness Presale Happening Now!

CALDWELL, NJ - Evolve Cycle and Fitness is now offering 10 classes for only $90. That’s only $9 a class when you purchase before its official Grand Opening on Friday, June 1, 2018. 

Only two weeks left to take advantage of this limited time offer! Call Martha at 973-979-5919 or click here to sign up.

Evolve Cycle and Fitness is a Premier Fitness Boutique ...

Montclair HS Student Reported Sexual Assault in All-Gender Bathroom, Officials Say

May 17, 2018

MONTCLAIR, NJ - According to published reports on Wednesday, Montclair Police officials are investigating allegations of sexual assault reported to have occurred in a bathroom at Montclair High School.

Montclair police officials state that officers received a report about an incident at the high school of a sexual nature that occurred around 3:18 p.m. on Monday. The ...

Upcoming Events


Mon, May 28, 10:00 AM

Township Hall, West Orange

2018 Memorial Day Observance

Community Calendar


Mon, May 28, 8:00 PM

West Orange High School, West Orange

Board of Education Meeting

Community Calendar Education


Tue, May 29

Essex County

Primary – Vote by Mail deadline

Clarifying Points Made in Article About WOHS Air Quality Issues

May 14, 2018

Dear Editor, 

I am the advisor to West Orange High School's student newspaper, The Pioneer. My Editor-in-Chief, Anna Favetta, is the student who researched the topic and wrote the article bringing this issue to light. She worked on the article for 4 months before she had adequate and proper information for it to go to print. 

An article on the BOE presentation of the ...

What It Means to Me - A Baseball Story

We are all in amazement of the dedication and talent of our young West Orange athletes. One of the goals of our youth sports programs is to develop our players so they are ready for high school and are prepared for success at that next level of play. Throughout the course of the year we will be featuring some of our talented young athletes and coaches. This week we have the perspective of ...

West Orange On Three!

The spring season is in full swing, and we are excited to debut this new column focusing on all things youth sports!  We thought we would kick things off with an overview of the programs West Orange has to offer, and then go behind the scenes to see what makes youth sports tick.

West Orange Police Athletic League (PAL) and Mountain Top League (MTL), together with the West Orange ...

Summer 2018 Events at the West Orange Public Library

May 15, 2018

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Beginning in June, the West Orange Public Library will offer the following events for area residents of all ages:

Dinosaurs’ Rock!                                             

Monday, June 11, 4:00 p.m.

Field Station Dinosaur visits with the ...

10-Year-Old Cancer Patient Receives Donation from Randolph Hockey Family

May 21, 2018

RANDOLPH, NJ — While the inter-town hockey battles on the ice between Randolph and Roxbury are fierce at every age level, when it comes to real-life battles off the ice, there is no hesitation to offer help to their neighbor.

Such is the case with a recent gesture of unity and support from the members of the Randolph varsity hockey team, when they came together to ...

A Royal Pain

I went to a big wedding over the weekend.  It was in England.

I like to think I was invited, but according to the Royal Guards and the Thames Valley Police I was not.  But more about that later.

You see, not too long ago I received an evite addressed to me from H&M@royalwedbot.co.uk.  Curiously, it was in my spam folder with a warning message. For an evite it was pretty ...

'Turning Off the Morning News' brings comic twist

‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, ...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Sustains Timeless Appeal

SUMMIT, NJ – The Summit Playhouse provides a stellar production of a much loved classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Harper Lee novel, later a Gregory Peck film and now a stage production, retains all the warmth, intensity and integrity that made it such an appealing hit in the 1960s. And there will be a new production on Broadway in December with a script by Aaron Sorkin ...