WEST ORANGE, NJ — Hundreds gathered once again at West Orange High School’s Suriano Stadium on Sept. 15 for the ninth annual STOP for Nikhil 5K Run and 3K Walk organized by the Nikhil Badlani Foundation to honor Nikhil Badlani, a West Orange middle school student who died in a car crash in 2011 when a driver failed to stop at a stop sign in South Orange. Money raised through the event is allocated to the nonprofit organization’s music program, scholarships for graduating high school seniors, and work with local and state authorities to improve traffic safety awareness. A little more than $43,000 was raised by the end of the morning, with donations still rolling in.
After taking the driving safety pledge led by Anay Badlani, Nikhil’s brother, runners set off on a course that took them from the stadium’s track through streets in West Orange and back onto the football field to cross the finish line. The top overall winner was WOHS student Senay Dani with a time of 18:20, and the top female winner was Tiffany Smith with a time of 20:29; Smith finished the race fifth overall.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey attended the event to commend the Badlani family and the organization on the work they have done advocating for traffic safety. Jasey represents District 27, which includes West Orange and other municipalities in Essex and Morris counties.
“They mourned the loss of their amazing son and vowed to do everything they could to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Jasey said at the event. “They have made a pledge for safe driving. Today we honor Nikhil and we stop for Nikhil.”
Darlene Folas, president of the NBF Youth Advisory Board, also spoke to the crowd before the starting gun kicked off the race. The board is only in its second year of existence, but has already held traffic safety awareness events and won a driving simulator in the statewide U Got Brains competition. Folas encouraged students to get involved with making driving safer.
“We encourage our students to share their ideas,” she said. “We are all committed to making our streets better. Being a part of this board has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life. Behind every city is a county and a state making lives better. We don’t always rally; we pick each other up, even getting up early on a Sunday morning.”
The foundation’s Inspiration Award was given to the staff and students of Burlington City High School, one of the other winners of the U Got Brains contest. In 2016, BCHS student Antwan Timbers Jr. was waiting to cross an intersection on Route 130 near the school when he was struck and killed. The school community began rallying for traffic changes by holding up signs asking drivers to slow down, and in January Gov. Phil Murphy signed “Antwan’s Law.” The law permanently makes the speed limit near BCHS and Wilbur Watts Intermediate School 25 miles per hour, which was previously the limit only during school hours. The measure also triples fines for drivers caught speeding in the school zone.
Two of Timbers’ ROTC classmates, Alicia McNeil and Lonnie Wesley, accepted the award from NBF President Sangeeta Badlani, Nikhil’s mother, along with BCHS Principal Jim Flynn.
“Use your voice for change,” Flynn told students in the crowd at the event. “If you see a change that needs to be made in your school or your community, don’t hesitate to act. Your voices will be heard.”
In an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event, Flynn said the Burlington City students and driver’s education teachers began working with the NBF several years ago. When they were advocating for the traffic changes on Route 130, the foundation helped them. Flynn said it was an honor for the BCHS camp to drive the 71 miles north from Burlington County to be at the 5K.
“Even out of tragedy, there can be a positive response,” Flynn said. “Many schools are safer because of these efforts. We would love to help other school districts with that awareness.”
The race began to celebrate Nikhil’s birthday, but Sangeeta Badlani said it is also about making positive change.
“It’s not just for Nikhil, it’s to really make a difference,” she said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “That means a lot to us. More and more youth are getting involved, and that’s important that it’s not just all adults. It’s about getting out and getting the message out.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic