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Event Recap: MLK Service

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Photo credit: Sami Abuauad

On January 20th, the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission presented “A Service Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King” at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church. There were 160 people in attendance. Councilwoman Maria Begg-Roberson and Pastor Shawn Pate (Mt. Ararat Church) made the opening remarks and Sophia Masullo sang the National Anthem to begin the Service. The Union Middle School Band performed two songs.

Superintendent Jack Hurley

The keynote speaker was Mr. Jack Hurley, Superintendent of Schools, who told the audience that he was humbled to stand where Reverend Ray Frazier had preached for so many years before his retirement. “I was honored to be asked to speak on such a significant day. Dr. King’s legacy and message are important lessons to remember and implement.” Mr. Hurley spoke about how although Dr. Martin Luther King never specifically used the word “inclusion”, his message was all about inclusion. “In my corner of the world, I believe we are moving quickly in the direction of inclusion. Our young people are moving ahead even with all of the obstacles they face. The youth have embraced his message of inclusion.” Mr. Hurley also explained, “Our schools are focusing on social-emotional learning which fosters and models tolerance, respect, partnership, and empathy.”

Huda Oskui and Mary Ahn presented information about the Civil Rights Movement. Assemblyman Gary Schaer spoke about how Dr. Martin Luther King’s messages were all formed through messages of love, “We need to join with our friends and neighbors...Man speak of tolerance. You tolerate a flea, tolerate a mosquito, but we need to stretch out your hand in a common cause to those like us...His memory is a beacon to all of us.”

Senior Patrol Leader of the Scouts, Hailey Moran told TIR, “I believe that despite our differences all men should respect and love one another. We are living in a new time period and everyone is now equal!”

Two community members, Quinn Cassavale and her daughter Amelia Perimutter read an excerpt from the eulogy Dr. King gave for four African-American girls who lost their lives during a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Quinn Cassavale told TIR, “I was extremely surprised when Maria asked me if I would be a speaker at the MLK celebration. I said yes because I loved the idea of our community coming together to honor MLK, especially at a time when the world is so fractured. Participating in this event was a small way to show my support for standing up to the injustices that still go on even today.”

Two members of the Rutherford High School Choir, Meghan Lichtenberger and Sarah Dzurillay, sang “Imagine”. The lyrics to the song, such as, "You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one," were particularly meaningful during this celebration.

Brian Inguanti and Zena Sherif, two RHS students, read about Ruby Bridges who was the first African-American to integrate into a Southern white elementary school. Councilman Ed Narucki read an excerpt from the eulogy Baptist Minister Benjamin Mays delivered after Dr. Martin Luther King’s devastating assassination.

Deacon Al Anderson welcomed everyone to his home church and explained that once someone comes into the church, he/she is “no longer a visitor”. Pastor Shawn Pate of Mt. Ararat church led those in attendance in prayer. He spoke about the road that Dr. King paved for all and how we are all part of the same fight for civil rights for everyone.

Girl Scouts

Scoutmaster Ginny Bowers Coleman, “Scouting is a service organization that builds strong character, which we share with Martin Luther King, Jr. Reading about his deeds and their impact is important. But doing an event like this, such a positive way to encourage community, friendship, and civility which cements those ideals, makes it very personal.”

Matthew Bronico, a Boy Scout, played Taps to honor Dr. King’s memory. Both the Girls and Boy Scouts read excerpts from the “I Have a Dream” speech and the Girl Scouts sang a song as well. Angelica Rodriguez, Scout in Troop 166 told TIR, “I was so honored to be a part of such a beautiful and inspirational ceremony celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Let’s continue to work together towards the inclusive world that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of.” At the conclusion of the program, Pastor Pate invited all to sing, “We Shall Overcome”.

Steve Way, current Acting Chair of the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission told TIR, "We must never forget Dr. King’s messages of unity, nonviolence, equality, and most importantly, standing up and fighting for justice. The Civil Rights Commission is honored to have had an audience of 160 people listen to speakers and students share the teachings of a great man who this country lost because of his beliefs"

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