More Than 300 Gather To Honor MLK, Contribute To Township Scholarship Program

The ballroom at the Double Tree Hotel on Davidson Avenue was packed for the 25th annual Franklin Community Breakfast.

More than 300 people were encouraged to keep Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality and equity alive January 18 at the 25th annual Franklin Township Community Breakfast, sponsored by the Franklin Township Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Foundation.

The breakfast serves as the foundation’s major fundraiser. Money raised is awarded to graduating Franklin Township seniors who are attending college.

So far, the foundation has awarded 218 graduating seniors more than $256,000 in scholarships.

The event’s keynote speaker, state Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver, talked about what current issues Rev. King would become involved with if he were still alive.

Oliver noted several, including the Ukrainian defense against the Russian invasion, and access and equity to business and home ownership.

“When we allow people from grassroots communities to become business owners, they also become employers,” she said. “They also circulate dollars within their communities.”

“That is really the next level of Dr. King’s freedom fighting that we have to undertake: business development and access to capital for small minority and women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses,” she said.

King, she said, “was a phenomenal leader, he was a renaissance leader. I don’t know if we’ll ever see someone who will be a renaissance man like Martin.”

“Martin had a red badge of courage,” Oliver said. “To change the course of history, to be transformative in people’s lives, you must be willing to pin that red badge of courage to your chest.”

“So if we want to continue on the trajectory of social, economic, educational justice, equity, each one of us in our own way has to pin on the red badge every now and then,” Oliver said. “I think that this room demonstrates that, because of who each one of you are who you represent, the fact that you saw it not robbery to make a contribution to this scholarship fund and by having a fundamental understand that we should all live the concept that we climb as we reach.”

Other speakers included two of the township’s religious leaders, Imam Syed Rizwan Rizvi of the Masji-e-Ali mosque and Rabbi Eli Garfinkel of Temple Beth El.

After recounting some notable moments in King’s life, Rizvi said, “Dr. King saw a dream, he didn’t expect things to change overnight. We need the same dedication to be successful.”

“If Dr. King had given up, he may still have been alive today, but his message would have never existed,” he said. “Therefore, if you want inspiration when you go home today, read about Dr. King, read about Mahatma Ghandi, read about Imam Hussein, and you will not be disappointed.”

Garfinkel told the story of Robert Smalls, a slave who served as a wheelman on a Confederate gunboat. Smalls managed to steam the boat from the mine-infested harbor at Charleston S.C. to a Union blockade. He was later made captain of the boat, and eventually was elected to the U.S. Congress.

Connecting Small’s escape from slavery to the point of the breakfast – fostering higher education – Garfinkell said, “We want our kids to get a college education so that they will be able to steam out of the minefield of dead-end jobs that don’t pay a living wage. We want them to get a college education so they will be able to fight back against the unfairness of life. We want them to get a college education because that is where you learn how to network with people. What you know in this world is important. Whom you know in this world is crucial.”

Like Smalls, Rev King “weaved through a dangerous mine field, the mine field of American culture,” he said. “He started a movement that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both of which were game changers for Black America. These laws gave teeth to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There’s so much more to do.”

“Keeping the dream alive is simply not enough anymore,” Garfinkel said. “The real goal should be to make the dream come true. Keeping the dream alive, nothing changes, because it’s still a dream, on life support.”

“We have to make Dr. King’s dream become our shared reality,” he said.

Also on the bill for the event was Franklin High School student Isatu Jollah, who sang the National Anthem; Abigail Ibironke, a member of NJ Orators who delivered Malcom X’s “By Any Means Necessary” speech; the Franklin High School and Franklin Middle School dance troupes; Community Baptist Church Pastor Jamin Powell, who gave the benediction; Franklin High School student Torie Schenck, who sang, “Lift Every Voice & Sing,” and Franklin High School student Gabriella Stewart, who sang, “God Bless America.”

Early music was provided by the jazz duo of Franklin High school students Saish Nellutia and Gykee Wheeler.

The Franklin Township Police Honor Guard presented the colors, and the event was MC’d by FTPD Capt. Sean Hebbon, the Foundation’s president.

Following are some pictures from the event.

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