NORTH BRUNSWICK – Middlesex County Freeholder Kenneth Armwood delivered a powerful message for the hundreds of people attending North Brunswick’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 17:
He said that it is easy to celebrate King’s message of acceptance and togetherness and condemn negativity during a one-hour meeting, among like-minded people who are supporting the same issues. But what about Thanksgiving dinner? What about at work?
“That’s the time when this meeting matters,” he said.
During his keynote speech, Armwood said tolerance is not sufficient, because people can tolerate things they don’t like. Instead, he called for a focus on diversity and inclusion – despite how people look, how people think, what religion they are and what country they came from.
He said the innocence and purity of youth are sacred.
“When we talk about leadership, it’s often our young people who keep us true to our mission.
“We put these children out on a playground and they wouldn’t know their differences,” he said, noting that is a learned behavior.
Armwood paid tribute to an electronics teacher he had at Piscataway High School who was part of an immigrant family and struggled to translate for his parents, find familiar food in grocery stores and serve in the Vietnam War. He said this enabled his teacher to bond with his students.
Armwood also mentioned wanting to participate in a walkout in protest of the treatment of Rodney King. Asking permission so he wouldn’t get in trouble, his teacher told him that for anything that is important, the consequences don’t matter.
“You will move to that which you envision,” Armwood said.
He said to move beyond King’s vision, not just dreaming endlessly without any action, but moving toward the vision and actually doing something, are key.
“I implore you to move beyond just the vision. Move toward what we want in society,” he said.
“Together, this evening, we pause, we reflect and we remember. Tonight, and moving forward, we choose to make ourselves better, personally, and together, for our community,” said Lou Ann Benson, director of the North Brunswick Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Services. “His mission for inclusion for all – we choose to be better in support to others, not so much just by our words but rather by our positive words. … Feel the proud legacy that has been left for us to embrace. Remember always: choose to be better.”
After Pastor Isaac Johnson from New Destiny Family Worship Center led a short prayer, Lenore Davis of First Baptist Church, Lincoln Gardens, sang a series of hymns a capella.
“[It] represents some of the despair of those of us who came to this country against our will, but embraced this country because we are part of it, we helped to build it, and we stand as American citizens today,” Davis said.
Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack reminded the people in attendance that although society should be moving in a good direction, celebrating the accomplishments of King, “that’s not the way it is.”
“A lot of us are here tonight for the kids … they’re our inspiration,” he said, urging residents to get on buses, go to marches, “be willing to do whatever you have to to make sure we turn in the right direction.”
Council President Ralph Andrews, who often says the MLK commemoration is the most important event North Brunswick holds, read a proclamation for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The celebration continued with musical performances by the New Destiny Family Worship Center Praise Team, Project LEAL Bucket Brigade and Ania Hoo and Princess Boachie of the Black Cultural Alliance at North Brunswick Township High School.
Beth Passner, teacher of Dimensions of Prejudice, the Holocaust and Genocide at the high school, received an award for focusing on character education, teaching history and urging students to be strong citizens and good people.
In 2008 she formed the Human Rights Coalition at the school, and has raised money for women around the world, solar cookers in Africa, child education in Guatemala, an orphanage in Rwanda, the earthquake victims in Haiti and survivors of the hurricane in the Bahamas.
Each year at the school she holds Fast for Freedom, where students fast during the day and donate to anti-human trafficking causes, and a Day of Silence, where students support the LGBT+ community.
Two years ago, she began advising the Diversity Council, and last summer she spent time at the Alfred Lerner Fellowship program at Columbia University.
“She imparts a lot of wisdom on our students and she never stops exposing our students to things we should be aware of in the world around us and how we can help as a high school to make it better,” Principal Michael Kneller said upon presenting her with the award.
Passner responded by mentioning a topic of discussion in her class earlier in the day, when a student asked if people who do bad things have a choice.
“Right is always going to be right, and wrong is always going to be wrong,” she said. “We do have the choice in how we act and we always have the choice to do the right thing.”
Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski lauded Abdul Savage, a senior at North Brunswick High, for his contributions to the community, presenting him with an award. He has a 3.5 GPA while taking all Advanced Placement courses, is the vice president of the National Honor Society, is the homeroom representative for the Student Government Organization, is part of the Principal’s Advisory Committee, helps the school store support DECA, helps new students at the high school through the host program, and volunteers at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
“Vision is one thing, but living it – extolling the virtues is one thing, but representing them is another,” Zychowski said.
Shivam Nangia, a junior at North Brunswick High, received the Youth Service Award. He has volunteered in the U.S. and in London, assists the library by helping patrons with search requests, and volunteers with the Red Cross.
Lisbelle Rosario, a freshman at the high school, aspires to be a neurosurgeon. She is part of the North Brunswick Youth Alliance. She also received the Youth Service Award.
Following a closing performance by students from the Livingston Park and Parsons elementary school choirs, Benson said, “All the songs, all the messages can only move forward with our actions as we leave this room. So wherever you are tomorrow, and you pass someone you don’t know, just say hello and think about what you can do to make yourself better and your community. So together we move forward and we make ourselves better.”
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.