By Chris Rotolo |
RED BANK – Are you awake this morning?
It may appear to be a simple question to those who weren’t in attendance at the Pilgrim Baptist Church of Red Bank on Monday at the house of worship’s 6th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Commemorative Celebration.
But those who experienced the delivery of this inquiry by the event’s keynote speaker, Rev. Eric Dobson, seemed to be moved by the depth of the query and the impact it made.
This was not a query posed by a grade school teacher in hopes of startling life into bleary-eyed students, but rather a civil rights scholar and community leader, whose stances on race relations in the United States had his audience riveted even before he stepped to the podium.
It was a question that hinted at Dobson’s interpretation of what Martin Luther King Jr. Day should truly be about — igniting a fire in one’s heart, mind and soul — and moved all members of the congregation to an ovation, if not tears.
“This is a day that has somehow morphed into a day of service, and one where we have relegated Dr. King to ‘I have a dream,’” Dobson began. “But, as a matter of fact, I think the only part of a day of service Dr. King would be happy about is that there are multiple groups of people coming together.”
“Dr. King was about fighting racism. He was about justice. He called for direct action in the face of poverty and racism, and direct action that confronted wherever it stood. He called for a challenge of the status quo. He spoke truth to power,” said Dobson, who works as the outreach coordinator for the Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill, explaining why the celebration of King is not only about a day of service, but about what is happening in the world and what people are willing to do about it.
Still, the extent of Dobson’s question was unclear, as he pushed forward, launching into a tale about King’s final Sunday sermon on March 31, 1968 — four days before his assassination — where King spoke of “Rip Van Winkle” and the protagonist’s excursion to a hilltop refuge where he would sleep for 20 years.
According to King, what matters most in the story is not the fact that Rip Van Winkle slept for 20 years, but rather what he missed while he slept: the American Revolution.
At that final Sunday service King urged his audience not to sleep through the revolution taking place around them, a similar sentiment suggested on Monday by Dobson.
“Remain awake is what Dr. King said in 1968 and I’m saying that to you today,” Dobson said. “Today I think we’re going through a cultural revolution that is shifting the foundation of this country. It’s a cultural revolution around racial equality, around gender equality, around the women’s movement…Are you awake this morning to know that there’s a revolution happening?”
STRUGGLE AND HUMANITY
The commemorative celebration began with a short film depicting the suffering of those who marched and peacefully protested the Jim Crow-era atrocities that spurred the Civil Rights Movement. Following the film, the church’s senior minister, Pastor Terrence K. Porter, spoke about where society stands in the wake of that struggle, and addressed the next generation of local leaders by communicating with the Red Bank Regional High School Concert Choir, as well as members of the Jazz Arts Academy and the One Moving Body Dance Troupe, who were all on hand to provide the day’s entertainment.
“In order for us to be sitting here together today, there was much suffering in America,” Porter said. “This was a chaotic time. There was a significant struggle that has impacted everybody in this room. Some of us lived through the struggle. Some of you want to learn about the struggle…We did not get to this place because of pleasantries, but because many suffered through a struggle.”
Monday’s celebration was an examination of King’s life and legacy, as well as proof that the struggle he and his followers experienced has produced positive change, as it brought together a diverse group of speakers and witnesses in a moment of reverence and discussion.
It was a group that included Rev. Alexandra Brown (St. Paul Baptist Church), Rev. Virginia Jarocha-Ernst (Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County), Rabbi Cy Stanway (Temple Beth Miriam, Elberon), Hazim Yassin (Islamic Society of Monmouth County, Middletown), Rev. Zaniel Young (President, West Side Ministerial Alliance), Pastor Robert Perkins (Emmanuel Baptist Church, Tinton Falls) and Rev. Jessica Naulty (United Methodist Church of Red Bank), as well as Red Bank Regional Superintendent Louis Moore, Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna and newly sworn in state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11).
Gopal provided a summation of what Martin Luther King Jr. Day represents to him, and in turn captured the spirit of the event, saying, “So much is going on in our country and our state, but the values Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is still teaching each and every one of us to this day are essential.
“This day and this event are reminiscent of the fact that despite what faith we are, what religion we practice, our age, or what our sex may be, above all else, we should treat people with respect, humanity and kindness.”
This article was first published in the Jan. 18-25, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.
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