Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Observance Highlights the Power of Community to Impact Change

The video of the event is now up on our YouTube Channel: Click here to watch.

On Monday, January 15th, the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race hosted its 17th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance at Columbia High School in Maplewood. Hundreds of people of all ages filled the auditorium to honor Dr. King through music, a sharing of interfaith readings and an affirmation of Dr. King’s call to action and service. Performances included “Lift Every Voice & Sing” and “Battle of Jericho” by the CHS Symphonic Chorus, spoken word “Change” by artists and activists Felicia George and Avery Julien, and a re-enactment of Dr. King’s famous address “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” by Kenny Vaughan.

Larry Hamm, chair of People’s Organization for Progress, delivered a powerful speech about Dr. King’s legacy and the relentless repeated attempts to end his life. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of his death, Hamm emphasized that we should remember the sacrifices he and his wife Coretta Scott King made in order for blacks to have a better life. He reminded us that the public had to make this holiday happen because the government wouldn’t. He continued, “At the root of all social change are people who will not let their imaginations be circumscribed by reality…because people would not accept the status quo, we have the Dr. King holiday, we have civil rights, we have made social progress in this country.” His call to arms was well timed with the current political climate in America.

Robert A. Marchman, Chair of the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race made a strong call to action, “We must all work together to find a solution beneficial to all to remove this stranglehold of racism hovering over our nation because it is in our best interest to do so. Let today be your call to true action. My challenge to you is: What actions are you going to take to make a difference?”

The Observance was attended by many local and state dignitaries, including Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr., Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, members of the Maplewood Township Committee Nancy Adams, Frank McGehee, Dean Dafis, and Greg Lembrich, South Orange Village Trustees, Walter Clarke, Karen Hilton, Steve Schnall, and Deborah Davis Ford, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Ficarra, members of the Board of Education, Elizabeth Baker, Madhu Pai, Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, Chris Sabin, and Annemarie Maini. We thank them for being part of this annual commitment to an inclusive community.

Afterwards the Volunteer Fair featured local community groups that provide opportunities to serve the community, including providing food to those in need, and mentoring young people.

At 4:45 pm, South Orange and Maplewood residents gathered at either Spiotta Park with Village President Sheena Collum or in front of Town Hall in Maplewood with Mayor Victor DeLuca for the inaugural Lighting of the Luminaries ceremony. Heartfelt speeches were given before illuminating the Luminaries at 5 pm in both locations as a sign of hope, sanctuary, peace, and solidarity with Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.

For the first time ever, bells tolled from places of worship in SOMa to remind families to light up the outside of their homes with Luminaries. This year we almost reached our goal for 1,000 homes in SOMA to be lit up. Dozens of residents shared their images of luminaries on social media using the hashtags #SOMALuminaries and #LetThereBeLight.

The Board of Trustees would like to express their deep gratitude to all the people who planned the events, volunteered, and participated in the observance:

The Observance Speakers, Performers, and Readers:

  • Larry Hamm, chair, People’s Organization for Progress
  • Columbia High School and Principal Elizabeth Aaron
  • Columbia High School Symphonic Chorus, led by Jamie Bunce, Director of Choral Activities
  • Jazz Trio: Bufford School of Music Faculty Band
  • Re-enactor, Kenny Vaughn
  • Spoken Word Artists & Activists, Felicia George and Avery Julien
  • Alice Baldwin Jones, South Orange Ba’hai Community
  • Rabbi Mark Cooper, Oheb Shalom Congregation
  • Pastor Molege Desir, South Orange Vailsburg United Methodist Church
  • Martha Gallahue, Ethical Culture Society of Essex County
  • Nabil Marshood, Maplewood, Muslim Community

The Observance Planning Committee: Mark Mucci, chair, Lee Boswell–May, Suzanne Roganchi, Katherine Brodhead, Monique Taylor

The Volunteer Fair: Frances Bucien, Sandra Bartlett, Diane Thomson, Lisa Spann

The Luminary Project: Chair, Patricia Canning, Nubia Duvall, Virginia Lamb Falconer, Jen Larrabe, Ritu Pancholy, Jane Kampner, Heather Saslovsky, Kristin O’Connor, Trenesa Danuser, Amy Cox Martins, Jocelyn Ryan, Run Jump Lift, Words Bookstore, Sparkhouse, Marty Remy & Girl Scout Troop #20321, Jen Stemmermann, Lori and Terry Martin, Maggie Tuohy, Deirdre Guice Minor, Kristin Mahoney, Ciara McElroy, Soupios Family, Nahela Hadi, Rev. Liz Testa Licata, Reggie Tindall, CHS MAC Scholars


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