NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Cory A. Booker, Members of the Newark Municipal Council, and other dignitaries celebrated the City of Newark’s 23rd Annual “Sing in Praise of King” observance today, at FirstBaptistPeddieMemorialChurch, at 572 Broad Street, in Newark. This free public event was presented by the City of Newark’s Office of Communications and Department of Neighborhood and Recreational Services. The theme of this year’s annual event is “Remember! Celebrate! Act! ”
“In life,” Mayor Booker said, “It is never about the big battle, the big moment, big speech or big election that changes things. What changes things is every day getting up and rendering full acts of service beyond that which is expected of you or required of you. We must stand up because people stood for us, fought for us and bled for us,” he continued. “We celebrate [Dr. King’s] words, but it was his work that got us to where we are today. I am a shadow of the greatness not just of King, but of others. This year is especially symbolic as we recognize the 25th anniversary of the designation of Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday. I thank all of our program participants who gathered here today in this sacred house of worship to ‘Sing in Praise of King.’”
This year’s event was held at the FirstBaptistPeddieMemorialChurch in Newark’s Downtown. The church occupies a historic structure that was opened in 1890, a gift from Thomas B. Peddie, who served two terms as Newark’s Mayor and represented the City in the U.S. Congress. “We are honored that Mayor Booker chose FirstBaptistPeddieMemorialChurch as the site for this year’s annual event. During the past 120 years, First Baptist Peddie Memorial Church has been a house of worship for residents of the greater Newark area and today we join with the community to celebrate the life and work of one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders,” said Rev. Felix P. Tingson who is currently serving as the 27th pastor of First Baptist Peddie Memorial Church. Rev. Tingson delivered the program’s invocation.
“Young people often don’t realize the impact of Dr. King today,” said Municipal Council President Donald M. Payne, Jr., speaking on behalf of his Council colleagues. “They only know about his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. They should read his writings. He was ahead of his time in being against the Vietnam War, for example. We need to keep his teachings alive, and to teach who he was.” Also in attendance were Council Vice President Anibal Ramos, Jr., and Council Members At-Large Carlos M. Gonzalez and Luis A. Quintana, as well as Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith and State Senator Teresa M. Ruiz.
This year’s guest Mistress of Ceremonies was Egypt, NYC’s 107.5 WBLS nationally syndicated radio host of “Middays with Egypt.” She has been featured as a music expert and pop-culture pundit on CNN’s Headline News, The Today Show, Fox Network and Black Entertainment Television. Egypt can often be seen on the Epix Network reporting from red carpet events and conducting one-one major film junket interviews with top names in entertainment. Egypt has been featured in The New York Daily News, Time Out New York, BE Magazine, Black Enterprise Magazine, The Source Magazine, VIBE Magazine, KING Magazine, Today’s Black Woman, Today’s Black Man, and various other publications. She has been the recipient of various career achievement awards including being named at the top of R&R Magazine’s “Power Players On The Rise” Top 10 list. She also received the “Executive to Watch” Award from NABFEME (National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment).
Egypt said, “I am honored that Mayor Booker, the Municipal Council and the City of Newark asked me to be the Mistress of Ceremonies for this wonderful annual tradition which celebrates Dr. King’s life. As we remember the past we need to also take a moment to reflect on the power of Dr. King’s message and show each other basic human kindness. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to heed President’s Obama’s words and call to community service.”
The keynote speaker was John Jay College of Criminal Justice constitutional law professor and author of Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present, Gloria J. Browne-Marshall. She is a member of the faculty of the Graduate Center of CUNY and the Gender Studies program faculty of JohnJayCollege. Formerly a civil rights attorney, she litigated Civil Rights and Public Law cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Community Legal Services (Philadelphia), and Southern Poverty Law Center. Her academic work and advocacy focus on the protection of vulnerable groups under Constitutional and International law. She speaks on these issues locally, nationally, and internationally. Gloria Browne-Marshall is the Founder/Director of The Law and Policy Group, Inc. (L&PG, Inc.), a community think tank. The L&PG produces analyses of laws and policies affecting the lives of vulnerable groups including the only national report on the state of Black females in America, the "Report on the Status of Black Women and Girls.”
In her address, Professor Browne-Marshall discussed the importance of remembering African-American history, illustrating her points with events from and experiences of the life of Dr. King. “It is so important to power the memories in our own families, even the ones that are painful. Future generations have to know, so that they can recognize what the previous generations have overcome,” she said. “Dr. King’s dream still lives only if we continue to have leaders to call people to the work that remains to be done.”
Also speaking during the ceremony was Reverend Glenn Hatfield, who served as Pastor of First Baptist Peddie Memorial Church from1986 to 2001. Reverend Glenn Hatfield met Dr. King at a speech he gave at Jersey City State College. Reverend Hatfield served as Executive Director of the NewarkChristianCenter, which ultimately became La Casa de Don Pedro. He also worked for the New Jersey Baptist Convention as a public affairs staff person, on interracial and social justice issues. Coming to Newark shortly after the 1967 riots, he worked with an interdenominational staff team, on health, welfare, education, and economic issues, and police-community relations issues. He held conferences with stakeholders and community members to find ways to address Newark’s issues, and helped empower Newark’s African-American community. He also attended conferences with Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young during the Civil Rights era on national civil rights issues, which worked on mobilizing clergy members of all faiths to be supportive of and involved in the civil rights movement.
“Dr. King is one of those people whose example helped shape my life and values. I hold the deepest kind of respect and appreciation for him – because he preached, taught, and lived out the principles of justice for all, and of non-violence – both principles desperately needed in today’s world,” said Reverend Hatfield.
The event’s benediction was given by Pastor Thomas Reddick of Renaisance Church of Newark. Featured musical performers were the Frierson Brothers, a Newark-based, award-winning gospel group that has performed nationally, appeared in movies and on television, and have been commended for their work by the Newark Municipal Council. Additional musical performances were given by the American History High School Chorus. AmericanHistoryHigh School was founded in 2007, as the first high school dedicated to the study of American history in the state of New Jersey.
“As a Newark resident, I was honored to be asked to participate in such a meaningful and much needed program that promotes peace. King was for peace. I was eight years old when King visited SouthSideHigh School and several churches in Newark. My family and I were overwhelmed by his visit to our city. This is a day that I will never forget,” said Reverend Franklin Frierson.
The ceremony also had an impact on AmericanHistoryHigh School senior Alea Duverneau. “Dr. King means change,” she said. “We have to live in his legacy and uphold the qualities he wanted us to live, to live in unity, and stop violence. His perseverance resonates with me. He was jailed, his house was bombed, his family endangered, but he had a mission, and he persevered. It inspires me, to believe that if he can do it, I can do it.”
Darlene Black, a South Ward senior citizen, was also inspired by the event. “It was a beautiful keynote speech. She talked about issues that affect African-Americans and what they should do – teach history, be about family, education, and love, and be leaders and not followers,” she said.
Another Newark senior, Helen McKnight, recalled her childhood, and said, “The racism we had was hard to put up with, but we worked to make it easier for our children. It’s good to come to programs like this because younger people may not know and appreciate what we did. It reminds them of the struggle that cost people their lives, to get where we are now. Today, our children have better jobs and education. That’s what it was all about.”
“I talk to my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and my great-great-grandchildren about what life was like before Dr. King got started and since he passed,” said Willie Mae Crawford, aged 88. “I experienced a lot of what he fought against. Things are better now.”
The City of Newark has been celebrating the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for more than two decades. Each year this observance is held at a Newark house of worship and draws a large audience of elected officials, community leaders, Newark residents, and other dignitaries for an afternoon of song and powerful oratory. Recent keynote speakers have included Academy Award Winning Actor and Filmmaker/Director Forest Whitaker, Princeton University Professor and author Dr. Cornel West, and the youngest child of Dr. King, Reverend Bernice King.
The City of Newark will continue to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through its “MLK 25 Days of Service” volunteer initiative. The city-wide effort kicked off on Monday, January, 19, 2011 with a ceremony at PSE&G’s headquarters in Newark. The “MLK 25 Days of Service” initiative is part of United We Serve, the President's national call to service initiative which calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. With this in mind, the City of Newark, Brick City SERVES, PSE&G, La Casa de Don Pedro, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) and the Rutgers University Energy Service Corps are leading a city-wide volunteer effort to provide free, basic, home weatherization to 100 Newark families during a 25-day period. PSE&G is a major sponsor of this initiative, which wraps up on Thursday, February 10, 2011.
FirstBaptistPeddieMemorialChurch occupies a historic structure that was opened in 1890, a gift from Thomas B. Peddie, who served two terms as Newark’s Mayor and represented the City in the U.S. Congress. Today the church’s diverse membership represents more than 20 nations and offers a wide array of pastoral and community services, including a Youth Ministry and Narcotics Anonymous. The church was one of a number of sites to host last year’s Dodge Poetry Festival, which saw poets from across the nation come to Newark to hold readings of their work. In 1990, FirstBaptistPeddieMemorialChurch was a featured location in the film, “Presumed Innocent” which starred actors Harrison Ford and Raul Julia. Rev. Felix P. Tingson is currently serving as the 27th pastor of FirstBaptistPeddieMemorialChurch.
About the City of Newark, New Jersey
Newark, commonly referred to as BrickCity, is the third oldest city in the United States and the largest in New Jersey, with a population of more than 280,000 people. Newark sits on one of the nation’s largest transportation super-structures including an international airport, major rail connections, major highway intersections and the busiest seaport on the east coast.
With a new Administration as of July 2006, Newark continues to see signs of a strong revival. In population, it is one of the fastest growing cities in the northeast. Its six major colleges and universities are further expanding their presence. The production of affordable housing has doubled, businesses are returning and crime is going down. There is still much work to be done but Newark is on its way to achieving its mission: to set a national standard for urban transformation.