ORANGE, NJ — Orange Councilwoman at Large Donna K. Williams, a longtime member of the People’s Organization for Progress, joined Chairman Larry Hamm and fellow members of the organization Friday, Jan. 15, to march in downtown Newark in honor of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Monday, Jan. 18, is the national holiday, but today, Jan. 15, is Dr. King’s actual birthday,” said Williams, who also works for a union professionally, at the event. “The People’s Organization for Progress took this day of his actual birthday to highlight some injustice — police brutality, economic injustice — just to highlight … what’s going on and to remind people that we’re still fighting for these things in our community.”
“I’m an elected official but, in terms of how people look at politicians today, I don’t like to be framed in that sense because I’m an activist who got elected,” continued Williams. “I’m a person for the people who got elected to represent the people… Power is to the people and you have to do it with and through the people.”
The march ended with a rally at Essex County College on West Market Street, where the participants gathered to reflect on the life of the man they were there to honor.
“They have made Dr. King into a harmless icon, but Dr. King was a man of action,” Hamm said Friday, Jan. 15. “Did you know there were two bombings at Dr. King’s house? They burned crosses at Dr. King’s house. Dr. King was almost stabbed to death by a black person in Harlem. He was almost stoned to death in Chicago and said the racism he encountered there was worse than anything they had experienced in the south.”
Because of what had happened to King during his life, Hamm said the best thing to do was take time out to celebrate the legacy of a man who he fought for others, not just himself.
“Dr. King was arrested 39 times in 12 years because he believed in nonviolent protest and activism,” Hamm said. “Former F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover had Dr. King surveilled excessively. He was almost obsessed with Dr. King. They had (a counter intelligence program) and it wasn’t the only program. And when all else failed, he was assassinated, all within 12 years.”
Hamm criticised today’s schools for a failure to teach anything more about King than his “I Have a Dream” speech. Hamm said it wasn’t until after he was elected to the Newark Board of Education ever and went to college at Princeton University that he learned why King had to be recognized.
“It wasn’t until I returned to Princeton in 1974 that I started to familiarize myself with Dr. King, when I came across his essay, ‘Testament of Hope,’ in Playboy magazine, of all places,” Hamm said with a smile to the audience inside Smith Hall at Essex County College. “I read the essay and that led me to the book by the same name. I would encourage people to read the essays Dr. King wrote in 1967 and 1968. He wrote several books and essays and he was invited to speak to the entire nation of Canada on four different occasions.”
“I want people to read his writings because they will see a Dr. King that the media and system does not want us to see,” Hamm continued. “The last thing they want is tens of thousands of Martin Luther King Jrs.”
“The struggle continues; it’s not done yet,” said Amina Baraka, the wife of deceased poet and black activist Amiri Baraka and mother of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, on Friday, Jan. 15, at the rally. “The struggle is like time; time never stops. At one time, you have to fight for this and at another time you have to fight for that. I always think about back in the day, when there were no unions and the many people that stood on these streets and fought for us to get unions. And now, even today, we’re still fighting for justice within the union movement, because they’re trying to shut the unions down.”
Also present at the march was Jasmine Crenshaw, an organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. Crenshaw is also a member of the Newark Communities for Accountable Policing organization, which works with Mayor Baraka’s newly created Civilian Police Review Board to monitor the Newark Police Department. The organization also helps with the federally mandated reforms the U.S. Justice Department is currently implementing within the police department.
“I wanted to kind of think about what we can do in our communities,” Crenshaw said on Friday, Jan. 15. “I’m from Irvington and my family is from Newark. Right now, we talk about police brutality and Black Lives Matter. We have a mayor here in Newark who is a child of the movement (and) who has our back, in terms of getting the civilian review that we need, and I feel like it’s time for us to realize that. But we can’t just have a top-down movement. We need to show that we are present, just like we were out here in the streets, and we need to take that into city hall and into our town hall; everywhere that people who have the power to make decisions feel like they have our support as a community, so they don’t have to put themselves out on a limb.”
Williams agreed with Crenshaw, saying, “I’m a person for the people who got elected to represent the people, so it would
be only right … that I am here fighting for the needs of the people and for our community in terms of the police brutality, wages, unfair wages, injustices that are going on in our community. These are things that concern the community.”