WESTFIELD, NJ--Today Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the same day as the presidential inauguration, was celebrated in the 26th annual march, interfaith church service and panel discussion put together by the Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Westfield.
The march started at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial statue and headed down East Broad Street to its destination at the First Congregational Church on Elmer Street. The march was led by Janet Turner, the Grand Marshal of the parade. Participants sang “We Shall Overcome” along the whole parade route.
March participant and St. Luke’s AME Zion Church member Francis Clark attributed the relatively small march turnout, about twenty people including two police officers, to both Westfield public schools being open due to the many days they were closed after hurricane Sandy as well as the freezing temperatures.
The service and panel discussion at the First Congregational Church drew a much bigger crowd than the march, with no pew empty. The theme of the interfaith commemoration service was “The Power of Unity”, and all six panel members incorporated this theme into their speeches in one way or another.
“Kindness and compassion and forgiveness spreads through the community like ripples in a pound,” said Senior Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Temple Emanu-El of Westfield. Sagal incorporated the theme of unity and MLK’s ideal of the “beloved community” into his speech.
“While we have traveled far on a long road we still have a long way to go,” said Sagal. “We need to set forth the task to create that beloved community in Westfield.”
Also calling for unity in Westfield was Councilman David Haas. Being a councilman of Westfield’s 3rd ward for the past eight years, Haas concentrated on the need for unity in local government.
“We need to build unity in local government,” said Haas. “ We cannot expect to serve our community without that unity. A goal accomplished with unity can build a greater sense of bond.”
Both speakers Reid Edles and Dr. Margaret Dolan used how the community came together to help their neighbors during Sandy to describe the already strong sense of unity in Westfield. Dolan exemplified the unity in Westfield by describing how the community has been coming together to comfort the family of Mark Hollaway,
the ninth grade Westfield High School student who died from the flu less than a week ago. There was a moment of silence for Hollaway at the end of the commemoration.
Unlike Haas and Dola , Rev. Ronald Allen, who was born and raised in Westfield, said there is a need for more unity in Westfield.
“There was a time where neighbor knew neighbor; where if you looked out of place people weren’t afraid to put you in your place,” said Allen. “I cannot feel unity until we stand up for those who have been knocked down.”
The winners of the 2013 Youth Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Essay, Poetry and Art contest were announced, in which the theme was also the power of unity as well as the King quote: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
Emily Holtzman and Grace Venezia, the top two winners of the 8th grade poetry contest, read their poems and all of the art contest winners’ portraits were available for viewing in the lower section of the church, where refreshments were served after the service.