It was almost 50 years ago that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. But he is still remembered every year by millions of people across the country, and by the Westfield community; the annual commemoration service in his honor was held at the First Congregational Church on Monday.
A multitude of Westfield residents attended the ceremony, including various speakers and the essay, poetry and artwork contest winners—elementary and intermediate school students from the Westfield Public schools.
Students responded to the theme “Unity” in their essays, poetry and artwork. Eighth graders Emily Holtzman and Grace Venezia of Edison Intermediate tied for first place in poetry.
Wrote Holtzman: “Some dreams simply refuse to come true. The world / Turns a blind eye, but I never will. There is still / Hope. There is still time / To change society and to dispel adversity. To / Unite as one world and to / Banish hate from our minds, from our lives.”
Wrote Venezia: “The power of a glare not given / In the hallway between classes / Or the name that wasn’t said / to save one’s feelings / The power to help a community / With all classmates / Younger and older / As one / We all have the power.”
Musical accompaniment was provided by pianist Vivian Ballard and a number of singers.
Speakers included Rabbi Douglas Sagal, Councilman David Haas, Westfield Rescue Squad Captain Reid Edles, Superintendant of Schools Dr. Margaret Dolan and Rev. Ronald Allen. Not able to attend due to illness was Norward Harris, a retired executive sales director.
“We wanted to bring in diverse speakers from the community,” stated Donnell Carr, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association. Rabbi Sagal spoke about Dr. King’s idea of a “beloved community.”
“I fear that I have detected in recent years a growing narrowness—a growing interest in self at the expense of others,” he stated. “MY money, MY property, MY pleasure… as opposed to the fact that we all live in the same community… We have a long way to go before we can say with honesty that we, in Westfield, have created a ‘beloved community… [we need to] set ourselves this task.’”
Added Haas: “We have an overarching responsibility to the community… no individual can live alone, no nation can live alone.” Additionally, Edles defined “unity” as “sharing.”
Dolan expressed the sense of unity she felt during Hurricane Sandy. “We all care for the children of Westfield and we came together to demonstrate that care,” she said.
The only school with power in Westfield was opened for people in need of some warmth, and since then all of the schools have been contributing to Sandy relief funds.
She noted that she believes King, if he were alive today, would like the unity in Westfield and that his quote on education, “Intelligence and character—that is the goal of a true education,” is very similar to the Westfield School District’s own mission statement.
The final speaker, Rev. Ronald Allen, spoke of the need for unity all the time, not just in times of difficulty. Said Allen: “It’s easy for us to be unified when trouble’s in our way… but when those things have gone out of sight, can say that we’re united? … We’ve got to be united before problems get to their situation!” He quoted Matthew chapter 9, in which the harvest is plenty but laborers are few.
“Unity is everyone acting on one accord not just when trouble happens, but every day, every minute. We are standing on a 50-year dream… We can’t be free until we stand up for those who have been knocked down… If we all believe, then one day we will be free.”
It was also noted that the friends and family of WHS freshman Mark Hollaway, who passed away last week, have united to grieve and support each other. A moment of silence was held in his memory.
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association plans to hold another ceremony in the coming year, and are working with WHS Principal Mr. Peter Renwick to bring the essay, art and poetry contest to the high school as well.
To view a complete list of this year's contest winners, click here.