Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Frontiers Speakers Raise Spirits

When Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said separation of church and state was “not the case” Monday, she wasn’t kidding. The Frontiers International 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast had more preaching and testifying than just about any revival meeting.

Speakers Gloria Spence, Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III and keynote speaker Kevin Powell had people raising their hands in witness as they made their points about the theme, “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” The miracle of the Hudson River plane landing, MLK’s 80th birthday anniversary and the juxtaposition of the civil rights leader’s holiday with the inauguration of the nation’s first black president had the people saying, “Amen.”

Powell recounted seeing both an unprecedented number of young people as well as long lines of seniors waiting to vote for Barack Obama, who ran for president on a “very simple message” of hope and change.

When Obama won the Nov. 4 presidential election, Powell said, “You would have thought the whole world was emancipated.”

The question is, Powell said, “What are we going to do now?”

Noting that two to four million people are expected to fill the Washington Mall, built like the White House by slaves, Powell said, “When he puts his hand on that Bible, you can feel the spirit.”

Although Obama “resonates with everybody,” Powell said the moment will have a special significance for blacks. King had a dream, he said, but to complete his goals, Powell said, “You must be awake to do this.”

Harking to the use of black males in slavery times as mere studs for producing more slaves, Powell traced a parallel in modern-day “baby makers.”

“Let’s have a higher standard for black men,” he said, so that black women would not have to raise children by themselves.

Powell said his own single mother had a dream for him and fought the Jersey City school system for his education. Now the author of nine books, he invoked the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” and said, “Barack gave us the remix – Yes. We Can.”

Tracing King’s life, cut short by his assassination, Powell said, “Look what he did in 39 short years.” King, Obama and Jesus were all community organizers, Powell said before laying out some guidelines for action today.

“Commit your lives to giving back to someone,” he said.

Powell said King even 40 years ago saw a disturbing trend toward “mediocrity in black America,” noting a focus away from a people-oriented society to a “thing-oriented society,” now evident in computers, iPods and other consumer items.

“We need a plan,” he said, calling on people to change spiritually, politically, economically by leading simpler lives and by taking more care of their physical health and mental wellness.

Spence, whom the mayor called on to sing as she does at each mayoral visit to the senior center, roused the crowd with a fiery impromptu sermon and the song, “One Day at a Time.”

Gallon also stirred the audience as he pointed out King’s view on the purpose of education – to succeed in one’s personal life and to prepare one to contribute to society – and set forth his goals for the Plainfield district to improve education.

Another star speaker was Artemus Werts Jr., a Rutgers student who talked about the great legacy of African civilizations that he said has been almost forgotten. Werts attributed fierce early slave rebellions to the people’s memory of their heritage, but said those born into slavery lost that fire. The way out of subservience then became education, he said.

The event also included community service and scholarship awards. Frontiers International is a service club. Oliver Pinkard, president of the Plainfield Area Club, urged all in attendance to educate themselves on the global fiscal crisis that has pushed the foreclosure rate up 81 percent over 2007 and caused widespread unemployment.

“There are high hopes for Barack Obama,” Pinkard said, “but he’s going to have his hands full.”

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The event was fantastic. Congratulations to the Frontiers for their longstanding work in Plainfield. The Mayor calling upon Ms. Spence to speak and sing was inappropriate since it was NOT her event. The exploitation of this lady must cease. Besides, Ms. Spence is a nice lady but not such a great singer. Nice with no production or talent reminds me of the Mayor.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous PM said...

This blog has been particularly good lately - strong writing, great topics and beautiful photos. The 1/18 piece was excellent. Keep up the great work!

2:20 PM  

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