‘Now is the time to join Dr. King’s dream’

The 23rd annual YMCA MLK breakfast calls on younger generation to serve


 Members of the Youth Choir at St. Stephen AME Zion Church of Asbury Park perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the Community YMCA’s 23rd annual breakfast celebrating the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held on Jan. 16 at Branches in West Long Branch.  KRISTEN DALTON Members of the Youth Choir at St. Stephen AME Zion Church of Asbury Park perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the Community YMCA’s 23rd annual breakfast celebrating the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held on Jan. 16 at Branches in West Long Branch. KRISTEN DALTON I n a room filled with more than 300 people celebrating the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there were plenty of wide-eyed children taking in a message first spoken by the American icon generations ago.

“I’m here to encourage all of the youth that is here today and all of those who want to count themselves as youth, that now is the time to serve,” said keynote speaker Abraham Lopez, executive director of the New Jersey Department of State’s Center for Hispanic Policy.

“Now is the time to give. Now is the time to join Dr. King’s dream.”

During the Community YMCA’s 23rd annual MLK breakfast at Branches Catering in West Long Branch on Jan. 16, Lopez emphasized the importance of taking action, following King’s lead. “Dr. King calls us — scratch that, Dr. King motivates us — to be citizens of change. Dr. King believed that each individual possessed the power to lift him[self] or herself up no matter what his or her circumstances are,” Lopez said .

Lopez said that oftentimes the younger generation tends to forget all of the people who have come before them, including grandparents and great-grandparents, who have paid the price for a better today. When he hears youths make excuses that prevent them from overcoming unfavorable circumstances, or claim that nothing great can happen, he simply reminds them.

“When was the last time you were told to get in the back of the bus? When was the last time you were told to drink in that water fountain and don’t go near that water fountain? When was the last time you were told you couldn’t swim in that pool, you need to go to that pool? When was the last time somebody hung a burning cross in your front yard? When was the last time your relatives were lynched on a tree because of the color of their skin?” he said.

“Don’t complain. Don’t give me these excuses. It’s fashionable now where everyone is calling their movement a civil rights movement. It’s in style. Everything is civil rights now,” Lopez paused, slightly shaking his head.

“We have forgotten what civil rights are. We have forgotten what it is to pay a price, an ultimate price, that many of our forefathers have given their lives so that I can be giving a speech rather than serving the tables today.”

In the face of hostility, Dr. King was at the forefront of nonviolent solutions during the Civil Rights movement and inspired Americans to look beyond themselves and into better ways of serving their neighbors, he said.

Today, Lopez said, it has become about instant gratification. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, drive-through dinners and new technological gadgets have taken the place of eating at the table and discussing the week with family and friends, he said.

“Where it’s got to be about instant gratification, it is no longer about our brothers or sisters or mothers, the neighborhood, the community, the church.

“It’s all about me. I’m going to do what I’m going to do. I’m going to say what I want to say. I have the right. I can do what I want to do, whether it offends you or not,” Lopez said to the crowd before reminding them of Dr. King’s message to look beyond ourselves and past our differences.

“Many of us come from different denominational backgrounds, religious backgrounds, linguistic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, different manmade levels of barriers of economic di vision in society. And we see that all these man-made images and walls and barriers divide us all.”

But Lopez called these excuses for not living Dr. King’s dreams. Instead, he called everyone in the room to act in service, whether it is volunteering at a soup kitchen or a simple act of kindness.

“Many of us have preached about it. Many of us have sung about it. But many of us have not lived about it,” he said.

Except for Tiara Anderson, a senior at Neptune High School, who was awarded the Humanitarian Award by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office for her commitment to the community as part of the YMCA Teen Achievers Program.

“I learned firsthand the impact you have [by giving back], even if it’s as simple as giving someone a plate of food, it sheds a light on their life,” said Anderson.

“We are the next generation, and in order to learn from the past generations, we have to be around it, we have to know where we came from, we have to know what our ancestors have been through, and that’s the reason why I try to learn from my grandfather and my mom and my great aunt, and also volunteer so I can see what I can do.”

Anderson said she was motivated to relay this message to her peers and classmates, emphasizing the hard work it takes to change a community for the better.

“What I can take back is the hard work. Nothing is ever given to you in this world, and I will say that I work very hard to get involved in the community. In order to change the community, citizens have to come together to change it. So get involved, serve at soup kitchens and do it from the heart, because I really want to see a change in my community and the communities nearby,” she said.

W ayne Boatwright, YMCA board member and vice president of cultural diversity for Meridian Health, reminded the audience that Dr. King was young when he sought peace among his peers and won the Nobel Peace Prize at 35 years of age.

“It is important that we listen to our young people and we hear those ideas that they may have. Not that they have to be the next Dr. King, but they certainly have that seed of wisdom that a lot of the times we don’t give them credit for,” said Boatwright.

“They are smart, they are innovative, and they have an amount of wisdom inside of them, so we have to make sure we’re encouraging them.”

A card was placed at every place setting listing the YMCA 2012 service projects that are volunteer opportunities, including a Leaders Club/PACA rally at the Freehold Y on Feb. 10-12 and a Camp Arrowhead cleanup on May 5 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Volunteers are also needed on Saturdays for youth basketball clinics, swimming lessons and special population classes at the Red Bank Y, and a Strong Kids Campaign that students can get involved in. For more information, call the Community YMCA at 732-671-5505.

Lopez said it is crucial to remind everyone, especially the younger generation, of the numerous ways to get involved with different community projects.

“I think that it’s important to get the youth engaged, as we see demographically we have such a growth spurt of youth. We’re either going to engage them at an early age so that they can be productive citizens and actually give something to society, or we’re going to create a large generation of inactive youth in society. So it’s important to get them early and emphasize that,” he said.

“How many are a part of that next generation of youth that I’m talking to right now that will keep Dr. King’s message alive? Who will keep that dream alive?”

Contact Kristen Dalton at kdalton@gmnews.com.