SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Middle School student government and Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Horizons Club co-sponsored a Black History Month program that featured local Maplewood resident Walter Fields. Students in all grades attended the two assemblies.
A journalist and longtime political consultant, Fields was one of the original political commentators on MSNBC and MSNBC.com, a columnist for The Record newspaper, a contributor to National Public Radio and The New Jersey Reporter public policy quarterly, and publisher of City Limits magazine. He also served as political director for the New Jersey NAACP, director of public affairs for the New York Trial Lawyers Association, principal of his own lobbying firm and is currently executive editor of NorthStarNews.com.
Fields presented a slideshow of black history makers and quizzed the students, who enthusiastically tried to come up with the correct answers. Those that did were given a T-shirt by the MLK Club that commemorates the Martin Luther King Memorial in the nation’s capital. Following the slideshow, Fields conveyed his personal story regarding his middle school years to challenge the students to find the courage to persevere during difficult moments in their lives. He told of losing his father to cancer at age 12 while in seventh grade and having his own cancer scare a year later, only to be followed by being seriously injured in an accident while on vacation in Alabama months later. Fields stressed that the students’ middle school years will shape their lives going forward and that they need to work hard and dedicate themselves to reaching their full potential.
One of the points Fields stressed was that the students need to take seriously the responsibility of being a student and young adult. He challenged them to honestly assess whether or not they felt prepared to move on to the next grade. When he asked the question, only a quarter of the students raised their hands and Fields suggested those who did not raise their hand should take some time and honestly reflect upon their feelings. He also encouraged the students to play an active role in their community and to not feel as though they are too young to get involved in making the nation a better place. He relayed his experience of being the youngest person appointed to a city board in his hometown and how that experience led him to understand the value of public service.
The program was just the latest effort by the MLK Club, advised by teacher Jazmine Wright and guidance counselor Paula Bethea, to continue the legacy of King, and to serve as a living example of the work of the great human rights leader.
Photos Courtesy of Paula Bethea