By Adianna Alston | AC JosepH Media
OAKLYN — The Oaklyn Baptist Church and the NAACP Camden County East Youth Council last month collaborated this year to host its inaugural Rev. Martin Luther King Day of Service.
The event was held at the Oaklyn Baptist Church on Jan. 16 and received an overwhelming amount of support from the community.
Some of the organizations who helped to make this day possible include the Oaklyn Baptist Church Youth, the NAACP Camden County East Youth & College, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Masjid Freehaven Inc., the South Jersey Alumnae, the New Jersey Garden City Chapters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and Girl Scout Troop #30148, amongst other organizations and individual members of the community.
One of the highlights of the program were the presentations by the youth. These presentations consisted of various readings of speeches and inspired work from the civil rights era. One particular performance deeply resonated with Mai’isha Aziz, the Social Action Committee chair and advisor to the NAACP Camden County East Youth Council.
“When the children did the poem ‘I Rise’ by Maya Angelou, that was the best part. I really did not realize how many young people were there until that moment. And then to have them do the ‘I rise’ part in unison was really powerful.”
Aziz emphasized the importance of youth involvement within the community.
“We need to do more work and come together as a community and really involve the youth. And make sure that the youth play an instrumental part in our community activities.”
Ifemide Adebiyi, one of the youth presenters and member of the NAACP Youth Council, spoke to the significance of this program.
“MLK Day is really a day of reflecting on the past and a day of reflecting on how great it is to be a Black person and what we had to go through to get to where we are today. I really do believe that we should be able to make a change in any way that we can,” she told Front Runner New Jersey.
This program also included a speech by its keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Keith D. Wright who spoke about Martin Luther King Jr. beyond his famous and often quoted “I Have a Dream” speech.
Wright shared background information on Dr. King and his work which is often neglected in discussions surrounding the civil rights icon and rarely taught in schools.
He also encouraged attendees to “reflect on the fact of where we are today as a society, as a people, as a country, as a world, and then reflect on a man who was with us six decades ago and look at his words — not what people say of his words.”
Wright praised the level of collaboration within the community that took place in order to have this event.
“I enjoyed the fact that Rev. Phyllis Martin, the NAACP and other folks brought people from all walks of life. That was extremely important to Dr. King and it is critically important to us today. We talk a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion, but there has to be collaboration. That’s the most important thing,” he shared.
He also offered his hope that the day’s festivities serve to inspire people to “have the courage to have an authentic conversation.”
Free lunch was provided to all attendees at the conclusion of the program. Attendees were able to converse and connect with members of the community from all backgrounds.
“I enjoyed the fact that we had so many different religions, races and so many different ages together and we had a cross-section of the community in one place enjoying each other. Some of the connections that people made in their own community that they would have otherwise not made — that warmed my heart,” Martin commented.
This event went beyond reflection as it also doubled as a community service opportunity. Attendees donated canned goods and non-perishable items to the Oaklyn Community Food Pantry. The large amount of donations received will benefit those in need in the community.
Despite this program being only the first annual of many to come, the church was filled to capacity as it reached a point of standing room only.
“We would love to have it at Oaklyn, but we don’t know if we have the physical space to accommodate the amount of people who may want to join us next year,” Martin said.
Positive feedback about the event continues to pour in and people are already excited for the event to take place again next year.
Organizers hope to further expand this event by inviting even more people from varying backgrounds to take part. They are proud of what has been accomplished thus far and strive to continue to initiate positive community engagement.
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