WESTFIELD, NJ — With cries for social justice, equality and civil rights for all people still ringing fresh in the ears of many Americans, not from the racial injustices that the civil rights movement fought against in the 1960s but recent events, many feel that there is a need to reorient toward the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We talk about race a lot in this country but not very honestly or deeply,” said Dr. Mark Boyea, senior minister of the First Congregational Church of Westfield, at the 28th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Commemoration Service Monday. “Despite electing our first Black president, Barack Obama, what we have witnessed from Ferguson to Staten Island to even Hollywood, shows that we are not a post-racial society.”
The service was held at the First Congregational Church of Westfield on MLK Day after a pancake breakfast at the Westfield Community Center and march from Westfield's MLK Monument to the church. The march and service were organized by the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Westfield.
The invocation was given by Rev. William Lawson, the pastor of St. Luke’s AME Zion Church in Westfield and their choir, the New Inspirations Choir, sang Chasing After You and We Magnify Your Name. The pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Westfield, David Mertz did the Old Testament Reading from the Book of Joshua chapter 2 and Douglas Allen of the Echo Lake Church of Christ read the New Testament passage from 1 Peter 3. Following the readings Rabbi Ethan Prosnit of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield did the Morning Liturgy in both Hebrew and English.
The orator for the commemoration Rhayan Brown, a third-grade student at the Kent Place School in Summit and member of the Plainfield Chapter of NJ Orators who has earned three medals of excellence for speaking. Brown recited a sermon given by King entitled “Loving Your Enemies.”
“Loving your enemies is an absolute necessity for the survival of our society,” said Brown in reciting King’s sermon.
The keynote speaker of the event was Taigi Smith, an acclaimed print and television journalist, whose father happened to be a friend of the president of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Westfield, Donnell Carr.
“She is a very accomplished young lady and has excelled in journalism and writing,” said Carr. “She has written extensively about race and identity in America.”
Smith’s 20-year long career led her to cover such events as President Obama’s inauguration, 9/11, the Sandy Hook tragedy and the 2004 Tsunami.
“[King] was a man that dedicated his whole life to making America a kinder, gentler, more humane place for all people,” said Smith.
Smith went on to remind the crowd that there was a time when all the people that were present at the commemoration, of different ethnicities and creeds, could be arrested for congregating together. She also went on to discuss the Montgomery Boycotts. Unknown to some, she told of how when King was a youth coming home from a speech competition that he had won, was asked to give up his seat on the bus to a white person. He declined but then complied due to the command of the teacher he was traveling with.
“He said, and I quote, ‘That incident was the angriest I’ve ever been in my life … it is more honorable to walk with dignity than to ride in humiliation,’” said Smith.
The theme of this year’s commemoration was “The Courage to Do the Right Thing.” Westfield students submitted essays and poems according to the theme. Alex Spiezio of Roosevelt Intermediate School and Ava Pravlik of Jefferson School both won for their essays You’re a Coward to Courage and The Courage to Do the Right Thing, respectively. Caroline Tan of Edison Intermediate School and Elise Fox of Franklin School both won for their poems titled Multilingual Courage and A True Bond, respectively.