Many notables gathered for Monday’s Morris Interfaith Breakfast celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr.
But the focus was on a V.I.P. who was not in attendance at the Hyatt Regency Morristown: President Trump.
“In a week when we have seen ugliness and overt racism from places we never imagined, it is good to be together,” Rector Cynthia Black of Morristown’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer told 400 guests, in a reference to Trump’s widely reported comments disparaging African nations.
“What would Martin do?” challenged the Rev. Alison Miller, of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, at a program entitled Defending the Dream: Rejecting Hate and Embracing Love.
Coming at a time when tax “reforms” appear to favor the wealthy, when millions face the loss of health insurance, when the President of the United States yearns for more immigrants from Norway instead of from “—-hole” African nations… the morning was a call to action.
“I subscribe to another kind of religion…to a God who says: ‘Stand on your feet, and I’ll speak to you!” King said in a little known 1963 speech at Newark’s Temple B’nai Abraham.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin
The clip was from Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent, a documentary about a Newark rabbi who had fled Nazi Germany.
Prinz saw parallels to America’s mistreatment of African Americans, and became a vocal supporter of King and the Civil Rights movement, recounted filmmaker Rachel Eskin Fisher.
“Bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems,” the Prinz told the March on Washington in 1963. “The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful, and the most tragic problem is silence.
“A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality, and in the face of mass murder. America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent,” the rabbi warned.
All Americans must speak out, and act against oppression, “from the President down to the humblest of us,” not for the sake of the black community, “but for the sake of the image, the dream, the idea and the aspiration of America itself,” said Prinz, who died in 1988.
Watch trailer for ‘Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent’
Prinz’s words were in stark contrast to President Trump’s.
Desperate situations force many Africans to come to the United States any way they can, said Ibukunoluwa Akintola, a Nigerian who is a Martin Luther King scholar at Seton Hall University. Derogatory statements by the leader of the free world are hurtful, she said.
“I was disappointed. A lot of people hold America in high esteem,” said Akintola, a guest at the breakfast. “I hope [Trump] realizes that his words mean a lot to a lot of people around the world.”
Responding to King’s call to eradicate poverty, a half-dozen Morristown churches are forming an apolitical, county-wide consortium to seek solutions to affordable housing and other pressing issues, said Black and Miller.
Initial participants are Redeemer, the Unitarian Fellowship, Bethel A.M.E. Church, the Church of God in Christ, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and the Morristown United Methodist Church.
The Morristown-based Wind of the Spirit Immigration Resource Center, meanwhile, is working on behalf of immigrants facing deportation as the government winds down the Temporary Protected Status- and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs.
Monday’s speakers included Harvard student Ife White-Thorpe and Montclair State University student Trevor Stephney, who showed a short film he made about a mural at his alma mater, Morristown High School, depicting Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
Vocalist Shannon Gibbons and pianist Devone Allison led a hand-clasping rendition of We Shall Overcome.
Among those singing along were leaders of the Morris branch of the NAACP, Jack and Jill of America Inc., and the African American sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta.
They were joined by the mayors of Morristown and Morris Township, Tim Dougherty and Peter Mancuso; elected officials from both municipalities; Morris County Freeholder Director Doug Cabana; Morris County Sheriff James Gannon and Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp, among others.
At least two congressional candidates–Tamara Harris and Martin Hewitt–also worked the room.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), whose support of Trump and the GOP’s conservative agenda has galvanized the first serious opposition of his political career, was in Washington working to avert a budget shutdown, according to a spokesman.
“He’s got a lot to overcome,” said Felicia Jamison, co-founder of Morristown’s Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Committee.
We all do, she said.
“We’ve got to respect and love each other, and respect the humanity of all people,” said Jamison, 84. What are the odds of that happening?
“I have to be optimistic,” she said.