By KAYLA J. MARSH
WEST LONG BRANCH — While enjoying a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon and potatoes, attendees celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were asked to answer the question that Dr. King referred to as one of life’s most persistent and urgent: What are you doing for others?
Elizabeth Williams-Riley, keynote speaker of the 27th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast Jan. 18 at Branches Catering, brought to the discussion more than two decades of experience in education and training and consulting on diversity matters on the local and national level.
“We have to face some difficult truths,” Williams-Riley said. “These truths are that we still live in segregated communities, we are still experiencing inequities … all those things that existed when Dr. King was on the battlefield.”
At the breakfast, hosted by the Community YMCA and the YMCA of Western Monmouth County, Williams-Riley said that in order to make a change it is important to understand the past to get to a better future.
“To have this opportunity today, because of a legacy that we celebrate, the life that Dr. King lived and the dream that he shared with the world, the vision for a better America … this day is realizing that you never know how much your past will affect your future until it shows up in your present,” she said.
Williams-Riley, president and CEO for the American Conference on Diversity, said the first thing that is required for individuals to make any dream come true is to wake up.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” she said. “We cannot afford to slumber in the mist of all that is going on.
“We cannot afford to slumber in the midst of all the … bigotry that exists today.
“We cannot afford to hold onto this notion of being colorblind. … Indeed, we need to see color, but we need to appreciate it for what it is [and] we have to wake up before we have these stereotypes ingrained in our minds, leaving no room for people to be individuals.”
Williams-Riley said racism today is more camouflaged than it was decades ago, and we have to examine the fruits of our past and understand that they are the reality of today.
“Everyone deserves the opportunity to have a bias-free first impression,” she said. “Dr. King understood the power of bringing diverse groups of people together to engage in a purposeful, goal-directed dialogue to address all forms of prejudice.”
Williams-Riley said that rooted in the empowerment of individuals is the potential for change, and it is vital and extremely effective and she said when you start changing yourself, it can ultimately impact others.
“I believe in the dream of Dr. King, I believe that we have the responsibility today to not make Dr. King’s dream a nightmare,” she said. “We have to keep the dream alive and we have to dream bigger.
“Dr. King knew that in good times or in bad times, we need each other to survive.”
Robert V. Weiss, chairman of the board of directors of the YMCA of Western Monmouth County and master of ceremonies, reiterated the question: What are you doing for others?
“A deeply profound question that should make you search your soul and is the theme of our event today,” he said. “I am honored that at the YMCA our volunteers and employees try every day to serve our communities by developing our youth, providing a place for healthy living where we can live and teach social responsibility.”
Iyanna Fairfax, a Freehold Borough High School student and Freehold Lions Club member, was glad to see everyone come together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King.
“He was a man who made history and, without the actions he made in the past, we would not be able to gather as one this morning,” she said. “Dr. King’s experience was filled with many outstanding achievements in which he made an effort to promote equality for all of his youth, especially with using non-violent protests [and] with the support of active followers, he was able to spread this belief [and] went a long way [and] is worthy of appreciation.
“As someone who wasn’t around during this point in history, it is completely astonishing to see one man change the world and make a difference in a prejudiced society.”
During the breakfast, students Karen Douyon, of Villa Victoria Academy, and Antoinette Gyles, of Marlboro High School, read their winning essays on how they demonstrate social responsibility to improve the welfare of others and serve their community.
Retired Fair Haven Chief of Police Darryl Breckenridge presented the new Monmouth County Chiefs of Police scholarship to Amani Hughes, of Neptune High School, and Amaris Williams, of Asbury Park High School.
“As we raise our children to become the adults that we want them to be, it is a community effort — the clergy, the teachers and law enforcement — so it is a great honor and privilege to present these scholarships,” Breckenridge said.