BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the New Light Baptist Church on Monday, Jan. 20.
The event, Bloomfield’s 18th annual, was hosted by Councilwoman-at-large Wartyna Davis, who opened the event by noting that the commemoration was established by former Councilman-at-large Bernard Hamilton. Davis said the New Light Baptist Church, or NLBC, was very much like the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgomery. Ala., where King began his career as a minister.
“This is the type of church that propelled someone like Martin Luther King,” she said.
In attendance were Mayor Michael Venezia; Councilwoman Sarah Cruz and Councilmen Nicholas Joanow, Rich Rockwell and Ted Gamble; Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-28th District; and Freeholder Carlos Pomares, D-5th District.
In his remarks, Venezia said the MLK holiday was always a great day in Bloomfield and America.
“We try to do our part,” he said. “On Saturday, we had a day of service. It was heartwarming to see the people who came out. It shows the kind of community we are.”
He thanked the Rev. Vernon Miller, of NLBC, for “stepping up” whenever the community needs help.
“We couldn’t do it by ourselves,” he said.
Venezia said he doubted King would be pleased with some of the divisive talk heard in America today, but knew King would be pleased with Bloomfield and its diversity.
Caputo said the mayor was “right on track.”
“Bloomfield is very unique the way they treat people, especially the children,” he said. “They’re the fabric of society.”
Caputo closed by saying that it is important to take the beliefs of King to heart and apply them locally.
“We have to hold to those things that are taught in this church and our schools,” said Caputo, a former teacher.
Pomares said the past week was one of reflection for him. He said that during last Saturday’s annual Bloomfield MLK Day of Service, when residents create parcels of food and toiletries for those in need, the Deacon Robert Walker, of NLBC, told him that Bloomfield brings honor and dignity in its service to others.
“He doesn’t know how much that moved me,” said Pomares. “It brought to me that a day of service is a way of service for a lifetime.”
Pomares emigrated from Cuba with his mother while his father remained behind, incarcerated for his political beliefs. Having people like Martin Luther King Jr. fight for America, said Pomares, made his parents want to come here.
The keynote address was given by the Rev. John Rogers of the First Congregational Church of Montclair. He said King heard the sound of change.
“He could have retired from public life after he won the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said. “But he raised his voice against racism and poverty.” King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Rogers said that a Gallup poll conducted at the time King was alive showed that nearly two-thirds of American did not have a favorable opinion of him. Two months before his assassination in April 1968, Rogers said King gave a sermon about two apostles wanting to sit beside Jesus.
“It’s the drum major’s instinct,” Rogers said of what drew these two men to Jesus’ side. “The instinct is going out front and leading.” But that instinct is also a double-edged sword, he warned, because the drum majors can look inward and believe in their own supremacy.
“King urged every congregant to harness that instinct for service,” said Rogers.
Rogers said that King ended that sermon by contemplating his own death, wondering what people would say about him once he was dead. Would they say that he fed the poor and clothed the naked? Rogers said King wanted to be known as a drum major for peace and justice.
“I hear the drum of change,” said Rogers. “Who in this room will stand up and lead us to peace? Who will stand up? Who will stand up?”
Walker gave the closing remarks. He asked that teachers be blessed, that they pour into their students the knowledge to make the world more harmonious.
Community service awards were given to James McDaniel, the director of the William Foley Football League; and Debbie King Freeman and Melissa Santiago, who were honored for their service to the MLK Day of Service Committee and Demarest Home and School Association, and for serving as Girl Scout leaders for 10 years.
Essay-contest winners were also on hand. The theme of the essay was, “How do civil and human rights impact my life?” The contest was open to Bloomfield public school students, grades 5 to 8.
There were 176 submissions, seven winners and three honorable mentions.
The winners were Courtney Jackson of Carteret Elementary School; Keylin Palauguachi, Daniela Duarte, Kojo WilsonNana-Nyarko Amankwah of Berkeley Elementary School; Audrey McLaughlin of Brookdale Elementary School; and Arianna Ollica of Oak View Elementary School.
Honorable mention went to Olivia Winder of Berkeley Elementary School, Sabrina Camacho of Brookdale Elementary School, and Karolina Vera of Fairview Elementary School.