See With Your Heart, Not Your Eyes.
Those seven words were the title of Deptford Township eighth-grader Halle Pina’s award-winning essay about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Pina was one of more than six dozen township students who were asked to write essays (fourth through 12th grade) or draw posters (first through third grade) expressing their feelings for King. The best of the best were honored last Thursday, when Deptford Township hosted its annual Celebration in Remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the recreation center.
Mayor Paul Medany and master of ceremonies and Councilman Wayne Love played host on a memorable night when schoolchildren were honored, the Gloucester County Children’s choir provided touching harmonies, and King’s spirit was alive.
“I think it’s important because he was a huge figure in American history,” Pina said of the crowd of a couple hundred students, teachers, and Deptford Township dignitaries coming together in King’s memory. “He did a bunch of stuff for segregation and racism. I think it’s super important he’s still remembered today.”
Pina focused her essay on the importance of looking beyond people’s appearances. She took King’s teachings and applied them to how we should stop judging each other based on “race, religion, ethnicity, social class and appearance.”
“We should look beneath the surface,” Pina explained Thursday, “based on their character.”
Like the rest of the schoolchildren, Pina was called onto the stage to receive an award and take a photo with the mayor and councilmen.
“It felt good to be honored for my hard work that I put into the essay, so it felt good to get the award in front of all of these people,” she said.
It was equally rewarding for all of the adults in the room though, too.
“(The students) are learning to be good citizens, they’re learning to be involved with the community, they’re learning to care about the community, about the issues outside of themselves,” Love said of the importance of the interactive King celebration. “Sometimes communities might have a lot of selfish individuals, but (these kids are) learning humanity, they’re learning compassion for one another.”
Love, who is in his second term on Deptford Township’s council, is a 1987 graduate of Deptford High who served in the United States Air Force. Eventually he followed his mother, Jackie Love, into public service in his hometown.
The elder Love served on the same council for 20 years; her son stepped into her place nine years ago.
“The Love name has been apart of council for going on 29 years now,” Councilman Wayne Love said.
Jackie Love was instrumental in making sure Deptford had such an event in the first place. During her early years on the council, in 1997, Love and her fellow township representatives organized the first Dr. King Remembrance night.
The 76-year-old Love recalled seeing King speak in Camden when she was a young adult.
“I think I was in my early 20s when he got killed,” she said. “He came to Camden, I was living in Camden at the time, and so many people came in to the center of town. … In Camden, it was a lot of excitement. (But) I was afraid. I didn’t like the marching and all. Martin Luther King was preaching harmony and at the time there was another radical side, revolutionary. … It was tension, it was tension. A lot of good came out of it, but I wasn’t at the forefront, but I was a spectator, hoping things would get better. That people’s hearts would change if you’re nice.”
King’s impact was clear then, as it is today. And some might argue that spreading his message today is as important as it’s ever been.
“He’d be distraught at all of these things that are going on,” Love said of King.
But, perhaps, he’d also be hopeful for the future, as Love was in watching all of the Deptford schoolchildren honored on Thursday night.
“I don’t want to sound old, but the children our are future,” she said. “And if they grasp the concept of Martin Luther King, saying all boys and girls together, coming together for peace and harmony. The bully term wasn’t around then as it is now. If you listened to Martin Luther King’s words, it’s all about coming together, harmony. And love and respect for each other. And we need it more than ever. I’m so proud of these children, taking the time to write, to draw these pictures and illustrate Martin Luther King’s spirit.”