WESTFIELD, NJ — A commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held Monday served as a call to action supporting racial justice.

Escorted by police, about 65 people marched through the downtown singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round” prior to the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Commemoration Service, which over 200 people attended.

“No one of us individually caused racism,” said Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea, a former senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Westfield. “So what. That doesn’t excuse us from doing something about it.”

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Clergy, activists and elected officials spoke at the Presbyterian Church of Westfield were community members joined in song and prayer.

“Let’s just stop telling black people not to get angry about racism, or that they should just rise above,” Boyea said.

At the service, Mayor Shelley Brindle announced the formation of a commission aimed at reducing bias crimes.

“Our fight against intolerance and racial injustice never ends. And unfortunately, it’s a struggle that our own community knows all too well,” Brindle said. “Bias incidents including racist and anti-Semitic graffiti seem to be happening with increasing frequency.”

Despite public denouncements of bias incidents, Brindle said, such crimes continue.

“Our rhetoric in absence of action is coming up empty,” she said. “It’s why I am forming a town Human Relations Advisory Committee, which will be formally introduced via ordinance next month.”

The seven-member committee of volunteer residents will advise the mayor and municipal officials “with an aim toward fostering an environment of inclusivity, mutual understanding and respect,” Brindle said.

“I hope this committee will be a trusted and respected resource for the community that will open lines of communication and enable the hard and difficult conversations to take place,” she said.

The conversations should occur face-to-face, Brindle said.

Elizabeth A. Wolf, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Westfield, described a year of sadness and success for the local African American community. Westfield saw the death of Dr. Derrick Nelson, a black principal at Westfield High School and the appointment of Westfield’s first African American fire chief, Anthony Tiller.

Wolf noted the Association’s support for an elective history course at Westfield High School that studies the minority experience in America.

“We think it’s a step in the right direction,” Wolf said. “And we’re very pleased that it will be at the high school in the fall.”

What can you do?

“The way we move racial justice forward in our community, here, is for each of us to choose one thing, to contribute an act of service,” Wolf said. “Choose one thing big or small and then do it.”

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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