EAST ORANGE, NJ — Although Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed Monday, Jan. 19, King would have been 90 years old Jan. 15, if he hadn’t assassinated outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. With that in mind, East Orange Mayor Ted Green joined forces with People’s Organization for Progress Vice Chairman Zayid Muhammad, who is also a poet and former New Black Panther Party minister of information, and students from the East Orange Public School District to host a special MLK Spoken Word Poetry Slam in City Hall at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15.
“I’m honored to be asked to participate in the tribute,” said Muhammad on Monday, Jan. 14. “The World House that he spoke of is becoming a mess. The dream is a nightmare, in ways that would break his heart, and we better recognize, as he recognized in his historical moment, that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Stop waiting and be the change we need to see.”
Muhammad’s words echoed sentiments expressed by Dr. Leonard Jeffries, when he spoke on the last day of the Citywide Kwanzaa Celebration on Tuesday, Jan. 1.
“I’ve been around the world, I’ve studied in Europe, I’ve been to Africa, been to Brazil, but the place most dear to me is Newark, East Orange, Orange; we’ll even take Union and Hillside,” said Jeffries on Tuesday, Jan. 1. “We have an example to show how urban communities can be transformed into African communities. They could do it in Detroit, but it’s not happening. They could do it in Baltimore, but it’s not happening. … It could have been Atlanta, but it ain’t happening.”
Jeffries said those other cities’ failures to become what they should be, in terms of symbols of progress for blacks, provide an opportunity for mostly minority communities throughout New Jersey to step up and fill those leadership roles.
“The model for it happening is here in Newark, East Orange and the Greater Newark Area,” said Jeffries. “I’m trying to tell you something serious. I’ve traveled around the world and this is where we can show that Africans can control their communities, can put a meaningful education in place, can relate to higher education, can develop people who know how to handle business. So any help that I can do, any programs, any assistance, any advice to the teachers in East Orange or to the principals, I’m there. That’s my mission. That’s my charge.”
Muhammad agreed with Jeffries’ sentiment.
“We all need to do our part to uplift and enrich the black community,” said Muhammad on Monday, Jan. 14. “Everybody has something to give or some gift to share with the community for the community. I am a poet and author, so I’m going to honor our fallen leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by performing and doing one of the things that I do best.”