‘Faith’ and ‘encouragement’ help ‘trailblazers’ forge their own paths

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Lawrence High School honored a “rising star” and a set of community trailblazers during its Black History Month celebration held on Feb. 25.

High School senior Laura-Simone Martin was given the “Rising Star” award for her role as the founder and president of Lawrence High School’s Black Student Union. She is also a musician, and formed the Queen Amina Music Club. It is an after-school music education and mentorship program for girls in grades 4-8.

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The event also recognized four “trailblazers” – adults who have risen in their respective fields – with the Lawrence High School Black History celebration’s Trailblazer Award. Those fields ranged from education to entertainment.

Dentist Devin Goodman, who lives in Lawrence Township, was given a Trailblazer award for his work as the director of dental services at the Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton.

Goodman, who was introduced by his twin sons, Elijah and Joshua, admitted to being “shocked and overwhelmed” when he learned of the honor.

Growing up, Goodman recalls his guidance counselor telling him that he was not “college material.” However, with his parent’s encouragement that he could go to college and his mom telling him “he could achieve anything he wanted to achieve,” Goodman forged his own path.

Goodman found a role model in a Black dentist, who let him observe and help at a dental office. With his role model’s encouragement, Goodman ultimately decided on a career in dentistry.

Latarsha Burke received a Trailblazer award for her work as founder and CEO of the African American Cultural Collaborative. The non-profit group’s mission is to educate, empower and unite Africans through cultural arts, health and wellness, entertainment and sports.

“The African American Cultural Collaborative’s mission is to improve the quality of life and to come together in a safe environment. It is a call for Black people to unite and recognize our heritage,” Burke said.

The group produces the Trenton African American Cultural Festival, the Trenton Youth Arts exhibition, a jazz and comedy festival and a poetry series. It also produces an African American History Bowl in collaboration with the national chapter of Phi Delta Kappa Inc., which is an educators’ fraternity.

“I am elated to receive the Trailblazer award,” Burke said.

Petal Robertson received the Trailblazer award for her work in the community. She is a high school English teacher in the Montclair Public Schools and serves as the secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association. She previously served as an executive committee member for the association.

“I know how hard it is to go through life. To be Black is to be powerful, to be Black is to have perseverance, to be Black is to be proud,” said Robertson, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Guyana. “To blaze a trail for others, you have to know yourself. You have to be comfortable with yourself. You have to live your life unapologetically.

“It makes no sense to be a trailblazer if you are not going to hold the door open for others.”

Corey Shipley was given the Trailblazer award for his work as a musician. He has written, played and produced music. He founded DuCoSh Music Group, which offers vocal training, song writing, musical production and event production. Its focus is Gospel music.

Shipley, who grew up in Trenton, admitted to being “a little nervous” as he accepted his Trailblazer award.

As a young child, Shipley’s first taste of music began with playing the drums. Years later, he never dreamed “in a million years” that he would spend the majority of his life traveling on buses, cars, airplanes and trains to play his music.

His path to a musician didn’t come easy. Shipley recalls some of his teachers told his parents he was slow and his guidance counselor saying he would “never be anything or amount to anything.”

“(But) I turned my life into something great. It’s all because I had faith. If you have faith, you can do anything,” he said.

Keynote speaker Brad Butler II reinforced the theme of faith in his remarks.

“I have come a long way, but in the back of my mind, I am still that young Black boy in special education classes begging for help. I felt that someone forgot about me,” Butler said.

“It was faith that got me through it. I believed in me. I believed in faith. If someone believed in me, I would be all that they said I was – ‘you are special, you are talented.’ You are connected to faith,” he said.

Butler urged the attendees to pay attention to their children. Fathers must take time to talk to their children and ask them if they are alright or if they need help, he said.

“Stay involved and stay connected. The children are going to break and they are going to need you more than you will ever know. When you give up on those babies, they go down the wrong path,” he said.

Butler left attendees with a couple of thoughts.

“Words equal actions, and actions equal legacy,” he said. “Make the next day your best day.”

The event was sponsored by the Lawrence Township Education Foundation.

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