SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The 6th Annual MLK Luminary Project, organized by the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, raised more than $13,000 for the organization — $2,500 more in donations than in 2018 — as a result of close to 1,400 homes, businesses and local institutions participating by lighting luminaries. This initiative adds a dynamic layer to the community’s long-standing observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is now being imitated in neighboring towns like Chatham and Millburn.
This year’s growth would not have been possible without the support of the community, from preschoolers at the Montrose School and MAC scholars from the high school to local businesses, who dedicated their time to making the Luminary Project bigger and better this year.
In December, Girl Scout troops, the Jack and Jill youth club, and other local children volunteered to create hundreds of luminary kits for dissemination through neighborhood leaders and stores throughout the community. The number of retailers who participated across South Orange and Maplewood tripled, with kits available at D&I Fitness, True Salvage Cafe, The Able Baker, Words Bookstore, Wine Barrel, Sparkhouse Toys, The Cassidy Bar + Kitchen, Kitchen Ala Mode, Sadie’s and Zen Pets. In addition, SOPAC and Seton Hall University participated for the first time this year.
“In its sixth year, the co-leaders Trenesa Danuser and Liz Testa and I aimed to incorporate more voices from our youth who represent Dr. King’s legacy,” Luminary Project Co-chairwoman Patricia Matthews Canning said. “We also wanted to make certain that this celebration was intentionally representative of all aspects of our community, and so, including many more businesses, neighborhoods and now Seton Hall University and SOPAC was important to us.”
The first-ever Luminary Decorating Party was held Jan. 13 at the Baird Community Center in South Orange. Girl Scout troops and more than 30 families attended the event to decorate their luminary bags and learn more about King, all while eating pizza donated by Bunny’s restaurant in South Orange. After decorating, some children asked to approach the mic to read poetry and share words of hope and love that were written on their luminary bags. Romon Danuser, who initiated the “poetry share,” recited his poem again at the Lighting of the Luminaries ceremony on the evening of the observance.
At 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 21, South Orange and Maplewood neighbors gathered at the front entrance of Columbia High School to light the luminaries. Student speakers included Sebastian Calderon, Jillian Canning, Jessica Canning, Dylan Danuser, Trevon Valentine, Romon Danuser and Aaron Allen.
After 6 p.m., residents lit their luminaries across the two towns and dozens shared images of their luminaries on social media using the hashtags #SOMALuminaries and #LetThereBeLight.
Photos Courtesy of Patrick Hilaire and Erica Ohayon