Marchers walked on Englewood streets Monday alongside elected officials singing “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine” in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
Others painted murals at youth organizations in Garfield and donated their time at a Paterson pantry packing food items for those in need as their way to pay tribute to the slain civil right’s activist.
No matter what form it took, the events honoring King on Monday contained messages of equality, justice and the importance of working for the greater good, which some were reminded are themes that are still significant today.
“Some people look at this as being a black holiday. It was a holiday for all people for dignity and equality. It was about the haves and have nots, and that is what he was talking about,” said Deacon Mack Cauthen of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Englewood, which organized the march. “It’s what is happening today with the Wall Street protestors, the haves and the have nots. You reach a point where you say enough is enough.”
More than two dozen marchers gathered in the morning near the steps of City Hall in Englewood where Mayor Frank Huttle III, Councilman Marc Forman and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Englewood, addressed them before beginning the 1 mile trek toward the church on Fourth Street.
Many of the participants, including nine children, carried signs, some displaying King’s famous words, including “I Have a Dream,” and “Let Freedom Ring.
During the nearly 20-minute walk, marchers were escorted by police, and greeted by a few honking horns.
“This is a symbol of the marches he had participated in that accomplished so many things,” said Natalee Addison, of Teaneck who participates annually in the Englewood march which began in 2005.
“He was out there, and he used marching for justice. It’s just a way of expressing what he was trying to accomplish, and it was accomplished by a group of many people.”
The march was followed by a service at the church, where Rep. Steve Rothman, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, and Englewood Councilman Jack Drakeford also sat in the pews.
The church’s new pastor, Jovan T. Davis, gave a rousing sermon, which included reading King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Davis, who joined the congregation last month, urged attendees to follow King’s lead, and to have compassion and a vision on what they can do to contribute to a better future for everyone.
Over at Eva's Village, more than a dozen children received nutrition and healthy eating tips from community volunteers as part of the shelter's MLK service event. The lessons ended with a snack, where children ate apples sprinkled with cinnamon, said Jennifer Doherty, volunteer coordinator at the Paterson shelter.
And dozens of volunteers at CUMAC/ECHO food pantry in Paterson put King’s words into action. A morning crew of volunteers packed between 300 to 400 donated items into bags for clients to pick up later in the week, said Stephanie Ames, volunteer coordinator. The afternoon crew from Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Wayne continued to bag items, including cereal, canned vegetables, and peanut butter. A number of the dozen volunteers also separated home goods donations in a separate area of the warehouse.
Gina Hernandez of Hasbrouck Heights said it was the second time she volunteered at the food pantry for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, also known as a national day of service. The experience had a profound impact on her, she said.
“After last year, we all donated clothes here and this place has become a mark for me,” she said. “I know next year my daughter will be 7, and she will be here, because I think it’s important.”
Paul Boney, a fleet manager for the rental company, brought his 11-year-old daughter Emily and 9-year-old son Christopher back again this year. He said he wants his children to learn that they should help those around them who are in need.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to support the community and put in some hard work, some honest work, and like my son said this morning do a good deed,” said the Warren resident.
Volunteers also brought several bags and cartons filled with more than 1,600 food items that were collected at the rental company since Jan. 3. Employees also held a book drive to donate to NJ After 3, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding and improving afterschool opportunities for children.
Enterprise employees have volunteered at the food pantry for the past five years on King Day, they said.
“It’s always been a way to give back to the community that we live in and work in,” said Dean Thompson of Wayne, the vice president of finance for the company.