In honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and life’s work, Union City officials held a commemoration ceremony at City Hall a week ago Friday.
“I think we have come very far as a people in this country when it comes to discrimination, when it comes to working together as one, whether it’s on the battlefield, whether it’s in the workplace, whether it’s on the playground,” said Mayor Brian Stack.
He also said that the inauguration of Barack Obama as president reflected the change King helped make.
“I think this year is the most fitting tribute, at the historic time that we are at in this country,” said Stack. “I think that speaks volumes about the work that Martin Luther King started and led in this country.”
Stack added that Union City has zero tolerance for discrimination, and the town’s own government includes people of many ethnic groups and nationalities.
The ceremony also included a reading of King’s “I have a dream” speech by actor J. Emerson McGowan, who has visited Union City for this purpose for the past five years.
“Ever year, I find a bit more in his speech that actually adds to who we are and where we are right now,” he said. “The basic kernel that I found in this speech basically says that we have hope, we are seeking freedom still, but we can not find that freedom or find that hope without some action, some effort into it.”
Union City High School students in the Junior ROTC program and the Union City High School Singers also participated in the ceremony.
“It was a nice experience because I never heard Martin Luther King’s speech before,” said senior Andres Santos after the reading.
In reflection of King’s dedication to community, three residents active in the Union City community were recognized for their own dedication and received a proclamation.
Before the ceremony, one recipient, Tifphani White, said, “The legacy of Dr. King is one about service and humility and civil rights for all, and it is important that we recognize and celebrate that for years to come.” She currently serves on the board of directors of The Grace Theatre Workshop, a local performing arts center.
Priscella Wood and Lynn Presley were also honored at the event.
“I think it is important to follow in [King’s] footsteps,” said Wood, a member of the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) at Jose Marti Middle School, before the ceremony. She attended the event with her daughter Eboni, 13, and her son Darcel, 11.
“More people should be volunteers and try to do something for their community.” – Priscella Wood
She added that the more people who get involved with their community, the stronger a community becomes.
“More people should be volunteers and try to do something for their community,” said Wood.
She also said that King not only influenced the residents of Union City but also the entire nation.
“I think he affected the United States as a whole because he fought to make sure everyone was treated equal whether you’re in Union City or Jersey City or what have you,” said Wood. “He taught people to fight for what you believe in and try to do what’s right at all times.”
Presley, who has been a social worker at Union City High School South Campus for 12 years, said in her speech that because of King’s principles, he had always been a role model for her.
She also said that years ago, her grandmother could not get a teaching job in New Jersey because of the color of her skin, and now, with the recent presidential inauguration, Presley said she sees a change in the nation.
“It shows us how far we’ve come, now that Barack Obama [on Tuesday became] the president of this country,” said Presley in her speech. “We have come a long way.”
At the event, attendee Luis Francisco said, “We are celebrating one of the most important people [to have lived] in the United States.”
He added that King appealed to everyone, black or white, rich or poor, and that his dream was freedom and opportunity for all people. “The dream is for everybody,” he said.