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Hundreds Attend Annual ‘Franklin Community Breakfast’ To Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Raise Scholarship Money

State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, center, speaks with state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, left, and Danielsen’s Chief of Staff, Wayne Dibofsky, at the annual Franklin Community Breakfast.

Education can be a method to manifest Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a “just society,” the state’s education commissioner said January 20.

Lamont Repollet, the Franklin resident who was elevated from Asbury Park schools Superintendent to state Education Commissioner by Gov. Phil Murphy, challenged the more than 500 attendees of the annual Franklin Community Day to “use your power and influence to create an opportunity for someone else.”

Repollet also said that school districts need more teachers and administrators of color to help minority students bridge gaps in educational achievement.

The breakfast, held by the Franklin Township Dr. Martin Luther King Community Foundation, has for the past 23 years honored the legacy of the slain civil rights leader with a scholarship breakfast. To date, the foundation has awarded scholarships totaling more than $211,000 to 197 Franklin High School and township charter school seniors.

King’s dream can be kept alive if “we use our positions of power as policy makers, educators, elected officials, friends and brothers and sisters, fraternity members, sorority members, to confront the sources of opposition head-on, even when it is most uncomfortable to you and your family and organization,” he said. “It might mean volunteering your time or your treasure or ensuring that our children have somewhere safe to stay after school. It might mean doing your part to nourish the hungry, to clothe the homeless and to protect the hungry.”

Repollet said that he chose education as his means of furthering King’s legacy.

“All the parts of my life combined to teach me that our public schools are crucial battle grounds in the struggle for opportunities,” he said. “They can be used for good, to affirm the dignity of all of our students and our kids, to reinforce their inherent values and to power our children with the skills they need to be successful.”

“We must not view our children as mere receptacles of rote learning,” Repollet said. “They are more than masters of equations and dates and titles and theorems; they are complex human beings.”

“If we expect them to consume and demonstrate the knowledge that we impart on them, then we must first recognize that we must tend to the whole child, the social and emotional needs,” he said. “We must remind them every day through our words and deeds that they are worthy of respect. We must remind them that they matter.”

After running down statistics showing educational gaps between students of color and their white cohorts, Repollet said, “We have a lot of work to do to keep Dr. King’s dream alive, and ensure our students get the best.”

Minority students need authority figures who look like them,. Repollet said.

“They need teachers and principals and superintendents and elected officials who look like them, who have gone a mile in their shoes,” he said. “They need mirrors in the classrooms to reflect their own culture back at them, to build a sense of self-worth and dignity.”

“Black students with black teachers are less likely to drop out of high school, more likely to increase their intention of going to college, more likely to be identified as gifted and talented, less likely to be chronically absent, and less likely to be suspended or expelled,” he said.

Repollet said the state education department is pushing bringing more teachers and administrators of color into schools because “we want a true educational system that reflects the state of New Jersey.”

He said that while 16 percent of the state’s educational workforce are people of color, 54 percent of the state’s public school students are.

“So we need to make sure that we balance it out,” he said.

In one of several nods to the governor, Repollet said Murphy’s administration is “changing the paradigm of education in New Jersey.”

“We are changing how we imagine education for all kids … we want to make sure we create an educational environment so when all kids come to school they will definitely have that dream alive,” he said.

“We are going to challenge the status quo and make sure they give everything to do what they can,” he said. “I challenge everyone in this room to use your power and influence to create an opportunity for someone else.”

The event was also highlighted by a dance performance by students from Inspira Performing Arts and Cultural Center, songs performed by members of the Franklin High School choir, FHS student Kayla Bullock singing the National Anthem and selections from vocalist William McCloud.

Also, 11-year-old Kayla Hill, a member of the New Jersey Orators, recited an original piece about Katherine Johnson, known as one of NASA’s “human computers.”

Temple Beth El’s Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, in giving his annual plea for contributions to teh scholarship fund, told the story of former slave Jourdan Anderson, and a famous letter Anderson wrote to his former owner. Garfinkel said that in his opinion, Anderson was one of the original civil rights leaders in the United States.

Anderson’s former owner wrote to him after the end of the Civil War, asking Anderson to return to the plantation to work for a salary.

Anderson’s response, in which he sarcastically declined the offer, became known as “A Letter from a Freedman to his Old Master.”

“He was one of the very first civil rights leaders because he gave to his former master, his owner, a righteous bill for his services,” Garfinkel said. “In beautiful and witty prose, he told the colonel exactly where he should put this offer plantation employment.”

Garfinkel said the letter showed the “power of thinking and education. Jourdan did not know how to read and write … it was illegal for him to learn in Tennessee. Even without a formal education, he developed a knack for deep thought, dark comedy and bitter satire.”

“We can only imagine what he would have accomplished had he been given that education,” Garfinkel said.

“Another kind of slavery that is alive and well, and that is the lack of an education,” he said. “The lack of education is like chains, whips and irons on an antebellum plantation. The key to freedom and justice is education.”

Following are some scenes from the event:

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