Area clergy urge against prejudice as they remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Community members hold hands during the 20th annual Community Celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held on Jan. 20 at the New Hope Baptist Church in Metuchen.KATHY CHANG/STAFF
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Community members hold hands during the 20th annual Community Celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held on Jan. 20 at the New Hope Baptist Church in Metuchen.KATHY CHANG/STAFF

METUCHEN – Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex) said one of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorable quotes he made was when he was 38 years old during a sermon in 1968.

King said one day “some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

“Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90,” Pinkin said as she quoted King, noting the Civil Rights activist would have been 90 years old on Jan. 15 this year.

Pinkin stood before the people gathered for the 20th annual community celebration to honor King on Jan. 20 at the New Hope Baptist Church in Metuchen and urged members of the community who came out for the celebration to not wait until 90 years old to stand up whether it is for a great opportunity, great principle, great issue, and/or great cause.

The celebration included musical selections of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; Michelle Howell, of New Hope Baptist, sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”; Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg, of Temple Emanu-El, sang “Blowin’ in the Wind”; Donavon Soumas, musical director at Centenary United Methodist Church in Metuchen led a congressional hymn “This Little Light of Mine”; and Shannon Howell, of New Hope Baptist, read a poem “In this Place (An American Lyric)” by Amanda Gorman.

Members of area clergy joined in on the celebration including Rev. Chuck Coblentz, of New Dover United Methodist Church, Edison; Rev. Anna Thomas, of Centenary United Methodist Church; Rev. Dr. L.L. DuBreuil, of Community Presbyterian Church, Edison; Rev. Crystal White, of New Hope Baptist Church; Deacon Frances Moore, of New Hope Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. Ronald L. Owens, senior pastor at New Hope Baptist Church; and Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg, of Temple Emanu-El, Edison.

The clergy urged the community to come together to overcome prejudice. Owens said more recently the clergy association banded together to push for an independent prosecutor bill, which calls for the Attorney General to appoint an independent state prosecutor to oversee the investigation and present evidence to a grand jury anytime an individual is killed during an encounter with law enforcement or in custody.

Owens said the process has taken three-and-a-half years and he hopes Gov. Phil Murphy will sign the bill into law.

White paid tribute to singer Aretha Franklin, who was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement, and Alvin Malette, of the Metuchen-Edison Branch NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), remembered the late U.S. Senator John McCain and the late President George H.W. Bush.

During the celebration, four area students received the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Outstanding Student Award. The annual award is presented to students who have demonstrated outstanding spiritual and academic characteristics and qualities. Each student received $500.

Jaden Weiss, a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Metuchen, is a student at High Technology High School in Middletown; Janae Morris, a member of Second Baptist Church in Metuchen, is a student at Piscataway High School; Shannon Iman Howell, a member of New Hope Baptist Church, is a student at Perth Amboy High School; and Nina Olivia Suss, a member of Temple Emanu-El, is a student at Metuchen High School.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.