By Marion Filler
Martin Luther King Jr. would have celebrated his 91st birthday a few days ago. As his contemporaries inevitably pass away, fewer and fewer generations remain that actually knew him, heard him speak, and were moved to action by his words.
Will his ideal of a “beloved community” continue to inspire all Americans?
For a half-century in Morristown, the Martin Luther King Observance Committee originated by Felicia Jamison has kept that hope alive.
What began as a commemorative service after King’s assassination expanded to include an Interfaith Breakfast, a Martin Luther King Day tradition in Morristown for 35 years.
It draws religious leaders, politicians, members of social service- and fraternal organizations, and people of goodwill from across Morris County to honor the slain Civil Rights leader.
Several hundred guests filled the Hyatt Regency Morristown ballroom on Monday to reflect on King’s legacy.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), introduced by Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano as a person with a “tough mind and a tender heart,” congratulated Jamison.
“Dr. Jamison, we are so fortunate to have you as a teacher guiding our youth, an administrator leading the Morris School District, a civil rights activist fighting against racial discrimination and for fair housing, and a mentor with the Junior Matrons. Your fight for peace, tolerance, and justice is a proud chapter in the movement’s history.”
Sherrill also quoted Civil Rights icon John Lewis, from a 2016 speech at Washington University addressing the importance of Martin Luther King’s “beloved community.”
As the Congressman from Georgia battles pancreatic cancer, his words are all the more meaningful.
“You have a moral obligation, a mission, a mandate, to do your part. Help to redeem the soul of America, help to create a beloved America, a beloved world where no one is left out or left behind because of their race or their class. In the final analysis, we are one people. We are one family,” Sherrill quoted Lewis as saying.
Morris Interfaith Breakfast 2020, playlist by Marion Filler. Click top right icon for videos:
“It is our responsibility to bring that vision to fruition,” Sherrill continued. “That’s why people like Viki Craig and her family are so important to our beloved community.”
Viki Craig, who died in December 2018, was a driving force behind Art in the Atrium Inc., a premier showcase of African American art for more than a quarter-century.
Deborah Smith, director of the Morris County Freeholders, invited Viki’s husband Charles Craig and their family on stage to announce that the exhibition will return to the Morris County Administration and Records Building in March 2020 after a year’s hiatus.
Judiciary officials had raised concerns about whether artworks are appropriate in a building that doubles as a courthouse. New guidelines have been established.
“Art in the Atrium is coming back to the halls of County government. Viki and Charles felt it was important to allow young people from their community to express themselves,” Smith said, describing the annual show as “the largest venue of African American art in this state.”
Pastor Herman Arias of St. Margaret of Scotland R.C. Church led the invocations, followed by Rector Cynthia Black of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.
Black envisioned America as “a place where race is not what determines who succeeds, who gets arrested, who gets medical care, who has what job opportunities.”
The minister also described the disastrous effect of the internet upon newspapers, resulting in the Balkanization of communities who choose only news they want to hear. She commended the diversity of the audience in such a polarized environment, where “the very act of eating breakfast together is revolutionary.”
Later, at Calvary Baptist Church, National Urban League CEO Marc Morial urged listeners to vote, and to participate in this year’s Census, to defend Martin Luther King’s dream now “under attack.”
Perri Easley, a King Scholarship Award recipient who attends Wesleyan University, spoke at the breakfast about her process of self-realization. Now politically active, she quoted an African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
Mother and daughter Simone and Aja Baitey, members of the National Liturgical Dance Network of New Jersey, performed for the audience.
The morning ceremonies ended with a benediction by Rabbi Michael Satz of Temple B’Nai Or. This is the time of year, he explained, when Jews around the world begin to read the Book of Exodus.
“We learn that God wants us to be free. We learn that God loves freedom. We don’t worship a Pharaoh who worships himself. We don’t worship a Pharaoh who worships military might or who loves to build tall buildings. We worship a God who loves compassion and justice, love, and truth.”
Everyone stood and joined hands for We Shall Overcome, in a moment of camaraderie and hope.