The Borough of Haddonfield enjoyed a subdued but meaningful series of events for the MLK Day of Service on Jan. 20, which took place after the hustle and bustle of the usual morning service opportunities.
The evening began with brief remarks from Mayor Neal Rochford, Commissioner Colleen Bianco Bezich and Human Relations Commission Chair Ellen Stone from the steps of Borough Hall, before a ceremonial and solemn march down Kings Highway to Tanner Street, then looping back to the center of town governance.
Once protected from the winter chill inside the auditorium, the theme shifted to youth, and how the next generation would fulfill the ideals which King fought and died for.
Five members of Girl Scout Troop 30486 addressed the gathering – more than 100 strong – reciting passages from King that struck a chord with each. A co-ed a capella group from Haddonfield Memorial High School performed two selections, a song from OneRepublic entitled “I Lived” and then an abbreviated arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s iconic “Hallelujah.”
Haddonfield Middle School student Dash Lin and Jada Eible Hargro, a sophomore at Haddonfield Memorial High School, were named Exemplars by the HRC for composing essays relating to the following subject:
“Overcoming injustice in society is always difficult. It always requires sacrifice. Many times, at an individual level. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave us a wonderful model for leading change. What are the lessons we should learn from his sacrifice, and what will young people today – who will be the leaders of tomorrow – need to do to lead change and continue his legacy?”
Hargro spoke simply and plainly of a visit to her grandparents, who live in Charlotte, N.C., and her grandfather’s remembrance of experiencing the struggle firsthand. The message managed to strike a deeper chord to those in attendance, who sat in silence throughout the five-minute recitation.
As she related in her composition, “The reality that he lived through the Civil Rights Movement as an African-American man hit me clearly, and I realized he experienced both the dark side of racism, as well as the opportunity and the freedom for which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought.
“As we acknowledge his sacrifice, we must value the true power of education. Dr. King … saw education as important to achieving socio-economic equality. Like Dr. King, my family believes that education is an essential component in the fight for social justice. Following education means the exposure to diversity, in people and ideas, to create a healthy foundation for the critique of our own ideas, as well as learning from others.”
Bezich, who campaigned on bringing Haddonfield into the 21st century regarding diversity and inclusivity, expressed her optimism that the place she calls home could be an incubator for change.
“I think Haddonfield is a community that is rich in resources, rich in people who can give. One of the things I spoke about today was giving and listening to others. Whether your ability and talents are music, writing, (young people) can grow up and hold positions in leadership roles, where they’re advocating for others as lawyers, doctors, as police officers,” said Bezich when asked how someone in a position of power can encourage residents to embrace differences.
“It’s important to spread the message that it’s not just one day we honor MLK – it’s year-long, it’s life-long.”
A final passage in Hargro’s essay and speech accurately sums up the hope for the future reflected in the education and potential for service in the borough’s youth:
“A leader does not wait for perfect circumstances to take action; young leaders must take initiative in social change efforts, using their youth, curiosity and energy to make an impact.
“Challenging (the) opposition must be viewed as an opportunity to better themselves as individuals, deep in their thought process, and define and articulate their ideas. Young leaders should seek wisdom from their elders as they adapt their ideas to make an impact today.”