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20th Anniversary MLK Community Breakfast Sees Record Crowd

Former schools Superintendent Frank Pepe exhorted attendees at the 20th annual MLK Community Breakfast to hold their leaders accountable, and to work for peace and justice.


A co-founder of the township’s longest-running multicultural event helped celebrate its 20th anniversary Jan. 16 with exhortations to hold leaders accountable and listen to one another.

Former schools Superintendent Frank Pepe spoke to more than 500 people at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast, held at the DoubleTree Hotel on Atrium Drive. Pepe helped create the annual event with former police chief Daniel Livak and former Board of Education member Eva Nagy.

The breakfast is used to raise money for college scholarships for Franklin High School seniors. To date, more than $157,000 has been awarded to 155 students, according to a release about the event.

The morning was filled with tributes to King in speech and in song. Zachias Noble, of the New Jersey Orators, presented a “montage in Honor of Dr. King’s Life,” while the Community Fellowship Mass Choir performed several songs, including “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Pepe evoked 1967 in his remarks, noting that King had published “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” the last book he published before his assassination in 1968.

In the book, Pepe said, King described “what he had always known, that the objectification of human beings, the hatred and greed that had fostered slavery, and then lynching and then Jim Crow, it was the same vileness, the same evil that had excuses the massacre of Native Americans, that fueled the Holocaust, that ignored the death of hundreds of thousands in Viet Nam and that perverted capitalism to overwhelmingly reward the rich while neglecting the poor.”

“Dr. King was asking a divided country, where do we go from here?” Pepe said. “And now here we are, half a century later. We have made significant progress in 50 years, but our nation is bitterly divided; fraught with distrust and fear; brimming with rage; hatred and racism for many of us spoken boldly and openly.”

“We have seen the killings of civilian motorists, the assassination of our peace officers and hate crimes perpetrated on the feeble and many of our ethnicities degraded; mass incarceration, eviction of a quarter of a million Americans every month because they are too poor to pay their  monthly rent,” he said. “And yet the richest of the rich grow even richer. Where do we go from here?”

King’s message, Pepe said, “remains a powerful guidance for peace, justice and progress.”

“We have come a long way, but we have much further to go,” he said. “We must be persistent and strong and hold all of our leaders accountable. Dr. King’s message is still essential, we must come to understand one another, pursue empathy and reconciliation.”

“We must exert relentless pressure on the government to serve the people, demand justice for all, fairness for all people, the common man, the poor, the disenfranchised,” Pepe said. “Government cannot legislate good will, government cannot create brotherhood or resolve hate.

“The assassination of Dr. King denies us of his leadership, but not his hope,” he said. “We still have time, we still have a choice, we still have each other. Now it’s up to each and every one of us.”

The breakfast also featured comments from other township, state and regional leaders.

State Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, (R-17), told the crowd that “this is a year that we have to stay focused.”

“We need to stay righteous in our activities and things that we do,” he said. “We need not to be distracted. We may be on the mountain top, but we are far from the promised land.”

“It’s incumbent on us all to cry out against injustice,” said Somerset County Freeholder, and former Mayor, Brian Levine. “As the anthem says, lift every voice. Not some of us, all of us.”

Current Mayor Phil Kramer noted that “some may feel that although we have held freedom, it may be about to slip away. If so, we must fight for it.”

Referencing the New Jersey Interfaith Council’s “Pledge To Stand Up For The Other,” Kramer said, “I call upon all of you to pledge to stand up for the other and reject every attempt to separate any portion of decent humanity from the rest. That is the essence of Martin Luther King’s struggle, and that is the essence of what this country stands for.”

Board of Education president Ed Potosnak thanked the crowd for their donations, and said that the scholarships are very important to the students who receive them.

“It makes a huge difference when there are scholarships … to open those educational doors in the future,” he said.

Ali Chaudry, who co-founded the NJ Interfaith Council with township resident Alex Kharazi, led the crowd in taking the pledge to “Stand Up For The Other.”

The pledge, he said, “is the key … to building the cohesive nation we wish to build.”

Nagy, holding what she said was a “slave collar,” which was used to prevent African-American slaves from escaping their owners, said, “This is what it’s about.”

“There are collars that are invisible and visible,” she said. “There are collars that ware inflicted on others, there are collars that are inflicted on us. What do we want our children to know?”

“That’s why events like this, and this unique group that comes together, are so important,” she said. “It should never happen to anyone, physically, mentally or emotionally.”

During the event, Rabbi Eli Garfinkel of Temple Beth El gave the offertory and dedication, Shirin Poustchi of the Baha’is of Franklin Township gave the invocation and the Rev. Julia M. Hawks Presley of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens gave the benediction.

Following are some scenes from the event.

2017 Martin Luther King Community Breakfast

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