Hundreds Attend 21st Annual Franklin Community Breakfast Honoring MLK

Judge Raymond Bruce, who sits in Supreme Court in Bronx County, N.Y., was the community breakfast’s keynote speaker.

It’s a sign of the times that an event honoring the late civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would of necessity include thinly veiled references to the current president of the United States.

That was the case Jan. 15 during the 21st annual Franklin Township Community Breakfast honoring King.

Pres. Donald Trump’s latest incendiary comments – in which he used a vulgarity to describe Haiti and some countries on the African continent – have led to renewed accusations by his detractors that he is a racist.

Those comments by Trump and earlier statements and actions regarding immigration to this country were dealt with early on in the comments delivered by the event’s keynote speaker, the Honorable Raymond L. Bruce, a Supreme Court Justice in Bronx County, N.Y.

“Diversity is not only important today, but as we look around this room we note that diversity is essential as a community, a state and a nation,” he told the packed ballroom at the DoubleTree Hotel on Atrium Drive. “So, if someone tweets negative comments about brothers and sisters who come from Haiti, Mexico, or Africa, remember that he has not studied the principles of diversity, and a Christians we’ll pray for him or anybody else who thinks they could visit hatred upon us.”

“If someone looks at women as mere objects for lust, please note that they have certainly not studied the word of God,” he said. “If someone tells you that as an immigrant you must go back home, politely tell them, you are home. Tell them that you’re going to your school and of course tell them in a non-violent way you’re here to stay. Tell them you’re going to your church, your temple or your synagogue, and tell them that you’re not afraid of his or their rhetoric.”

State Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17) also referenced Trump in his remarks, specifically Trump’s tweets criticizing National Football League players and other athletes who “take a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem.

Danielsen reminded attendees of his comments at the 2017 breakfast, when he counseled them to “stay focused” and to “forget about that orange disease in Washington, D.C.”

“This year, I want you to redefine your own patriotism,” Danielsen said. “When you’re sitting there, and a football game is delayed, or a song is interrupted, don’t ask why the football game is delayed or the song is interrupted, ask why is that man down on his knees? He is exercising his patriotism.”

More than 450 tickets were sold for the event, the second-largest response in the two decades that the breakfast has been held, said Alex Kharazi, one of the event’s organizers.

The morning was punctuated with speeches, performances by the Community Fellowship Mass Choir, and a reading of the poem, “Lord, Why Did You Make Me Black?” performed by Demiladeiye Osinubi of the New Jersey Orators and a 7th Grader at Cedar Hill Preparatory School on Cedar Grove Lane.

The breakfast is sponsored by the Franklin Township Dr. Martin Luther King Community Foundation, and is held to raise money to present college scholarships to high school seniors who are from Franklin Township.

Last year’s event, which saw a record turnout of about 500 people, raised $20,000 in scholarships which were distributed to 12 students.

The majority of comments made by the speakers dealt with King, the value of diversity, and how diversity is celebrated in Franklin Township.

Bruce, who was a Martin Luther King scholar while at NYU, presented his comments about King through the lens of religion, drawing often from the Bible.

King, Judge Bruce said, “championed the principles of equality and justice, so it’s easy to see that a celebration of Dr. King, such as this, is an all-inclusive event.”

“When we discuss the importance of Dr King’s life, we recognize the concepts of love, faith and hope, all of which permeated his philosophy,” he said.

“He informed us, he taught us, he analyzed cutting-edge issues for our benefit,” Bruce said. “He challenged and he encouraged us, he placed pressure and  shamed anyone that oppressed us. He ministered to us and he inspired us when he preached. And, of course, he led us in a way that we were ever mindful that the promised land was within our reach.”

Bruce also addressed some of his comments to students who attended the breakfast.

“Your purpose in life will be shaped as you venture off to college,” he said. “Be inspired by this preacher who learned a lot when he was in school, attending Morehouse College and studying at divinity school. His life was shaped by God while at school and in the church; I want you youngsters to understand that you have to watch and see what God has in store for you.”

“I would challenge you to be prepared because of what’s happening in this era,” he said. “I believe we are in an era of enlightenment, and you young students may be pressed into service sooner than you think.”

In speaking about protests during the Civil Rights Era in the 1950s and 1960s, Danielsen noted that activists seeking educational parity between the races protested and “shut down the school system that wasn’t operating in a just manner. Demonstration and protest is not a matter of convenience, timing or schedule, it’s to make wrong things right.”

Referring to individual observances of patriotism, Danielsen, an Army veteran, said that he exhibits his by saluting during the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I never really risked my life like Dr King did,” he said. “He knew there were people right around the corner who wanted him dead. I just gave a salute.”

Eva Nagy, chairperson of the foundation’s Board of Trustees, said it is action that is needed to perpetuate King’s legacy.

“We need to do more than just come to a breakfast and share,” she said. “We need actions. As we bring our diversity into this room and community, we do need each other.”

“Our actions break down the walls, our actions reach out to each other,” Nagy said. “It’s our actions that bring harmony. It’s our actions that fight hate. It’s our actions that being positive change. If Dr. King had not acted, we wouldn’t have had the major changes and profound moments that have happened in our history and should continue to happen.”

“I ask you to rededicate yourselves, recommit, reignite yourselves into caring about each other, reaching out to each other beyond the tables where you sit, and be part of the solution,” she said.

Somerset County Freeholder and former Mayor Brian Levine said that to him, “the bigotry nowadays is much more insidious than in the past.”

“To me, to carry on Dr. King’s legacy, when someone proclaims supremacy, or Nazism, or sexism … we owe it to Dr. King to call this out and to stamp it out,” he said.

Mayor Phil Kramer greeted the attendees, but turned him time over to Deputy Mayor Shanel Robinson.

By coming to the breakfast, she said, attendees were “not only lifting the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, but living the legacy. Not only remembering the dreamer, but making sure that the dream lives on.”

Robinson challenged them to “continue to live out the legacy that Dr. King set before us so long ago.”

Also offering comments was new Boar of Education president Nancy LaCorte, who thanked the audience for their support of township students.

The National Anthem was sung by Angela Bodino of Raritan Valley Community College, with Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, of Temple Beth El, reprising his role of giving the offertory and making the pitch for donations.

The Franklin Township Police Department’s Honor Guard was on hand for the presentation of colors, and the invocation was given by Venerable Heenbunne Kondanna, chief abbot of the Staten Island Buddhist Temple. The benediction was given by the Rev. Tom Culley of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Edison and founder of TJC Miniseries of Somerset.

The Community Fellowship Mass Choir performed several selections; the Franklin Reporter & Advocate live-streamed their rendition of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness:”

Posted by The Franklin Reporter & Advocate on Monday, January 15, 2018


Here are some scenes from the breakfast:


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