Three YMCAs Host MLK Commemorative Breakfasts

May 3, 2019

The work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were remembered and celebrated by The YMCA of Newark and Vicinity at its 48th Annual Memorial Breakfast on January 18, and by The Community YMCA and the YMCA of Western Monmouth County, which jointly hosted their 30th Annual Commemorative Breakfast on January 21.

YMCA of Newark and Vicinity

“Friend-raiser” is how Michael Bright, the President and CEO of the Newark YMCA, characterized the Newark breakfast, which was started by the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, Sr. in 1970. Bright believes the Newark MLK event is the longest-running MLK memorial breakfast in the country.

“This is not a fundraiser for the Y,” Bright said. “Our aim is to bring together people from all corners of our community to join as friends in honor of Dr. King. We cross races, ages and occupations. It’s an opportunity to recommit to the high ideals that Dr. King personified.”

The Reverend Shawn T. Wallace Sr., Senior Pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church of Scotch Plains, welcomed the 550 attendees, and delivered an inspirational address that connected Dr. King’s message with the challenges of today. Newark’s Arts High School choir ignited the spirit of audience members with their rousing performance of “We Shall Overcome” and other songs from Dr. King’s era.

“The breakfast allows us to take time to remember and reflect on Dr. King’s vision of a community and world of peace, love and understanding,” Bright said.

The Newark YMCA thanks all of its corporate sponsors for ensuring that the memory of Dr. King lives on! Panasonic USA, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, United, Prudential, Rutgers University—Newark, McCarter & English, LLP, Wells Fargo, Montclair State University, Newark Downtown District, Newark Public Library, UPS, CSG Urban Partners, and Thompson and Peck.

The Community YMCA and the YMCA of Western Monmouth County

Putting Dr. King’s lessons into action was the focus of the YMCAs of Monmouth County Commemorative Breakfast. Hundreds of books were donated by attendees and community members to support Bridge of Books Foundation, a nonprofit that provides books to underserved children throughout NJ. Also, following the breakfast, each YMCA held debrief sessions to explore how to expand the involvement of local businesses.

“One key purpose of this community gathering is to honor Dr. King by encouraging service to others,” Laurie Goganzer, President and CEO of The Community YMCA, said. “We are pleased to support literacy development and a love for reading in our youth.”

The keynote was delivered by Ronald L. Sparks, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Freehold. His address spoke to today’s climate and underscored the importance of understanding our history to “recognize that we are not standing alone, but rather, we are standing on the shoulders of those who stood before us.” Rabbi Marc Kline of the Monmouth Reform Temple also spoke, presenting a compelling call to action. He asked the 300 attendees to pledge to Stand Up for Others by challenging bigotry in any form and proving that each of us has the power to make a difference.

This year as in past years, local students were invited to submit an essay about how Dr. King, if alive today, would bring people together to address America’s social crisis. Solange Skarecki, a sophomore at Asbury Park High School, and Ned Bryant, a junior at Freehold Regional High School, won this year’s contest. Skarecki shared her experience of visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis that incorporates the Lorraine Hotel, where Dr. King was shot. Bryant imagined how the world would be different if Dr. King were the U.S. president today. The students read their essays at the breakfast, and each received a $500 scholarship, generously sponsored by Hackensack Meridian Health and New Jersey Natural Gas.

“We were honored to host this 30th year milestone event to celebrate unity as Dr. King modeled, and to share his teachings with the youth in our communities,” said Goganzer. “It demonstrates that the YMCA is not just a place to swim and work out. By joining with community members, we work to make our communities stronger in a multitude of ways.”