Salem County community, leaders celebrate legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
on January 21, 2013
SALEM — While many flocked to the nation’s capitol for the president’s inauguration on Monday, others took time to reflect on the memory and legacy of another historic leader — a man whose dream helped shape our country into what it is today.
Great strides have been made toward universal equality since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech during the historic March on Washington in 1963, but as local community leaders recently reflected, it’s up to today’s dreamers to continue to push that message forward.
The 22nd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards and Scholarship Breakfast was held Monday morning to recognize individuals in the community who have helped to carry on King’s dream, and to raise money for scholarships to benefit Salem High School students.
The event was held in the Salem High School auditorium and attended by around 230 local leaders, elected officials, clergy, and members of the community. It is sponsored each year by the Mt. Pisgah AME Church and the MLK Scholarship Foundation, in cooperation with the Partners of Salem County.
In delivering the statement of purpose for the event, MLK Scholarship Foundation Trustee James Dickerson said it’s important to join together as a community to reflect on King’s legacy, and to continue to challenge the status quo in hopes for a brighter future.
“We know from past experiences that we cannot afford to settle for being just average. We have to become the best that we can be. We cannot deal with empty rhetoric. Words are just words, power lies in deeds. We must become a people of action,” said Dickerson.
Four individuals were selected as this year’s honorees for their accomplishments in their communities, and their efforts to follow King’s spirit of outreach.
Honored were: Corin C. Diana, Bill Gallo Jr., Ernest L. Henderson, and Randy Johnson.
Diana was recognized for her volunteer efforts to restore the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery, a historic cemetery dating back to the 1800s that had fallen into severe disrepair. The cemetery holds 32 veterans, most of which served in the Civil War. Diana and her group of volunteers hope to finish restoring the cemetery by spring.
“I’m honored and proud to receive this recognition. This was something I started myself a year ago, and now we have over 20 volunteers,” she said. “It’s come a long way, and we’re proud of the work we’ve done.”
Gallo was honored for his work as the editor of the south edition of the South Jersey Times, which serves Salem and Cumberland counties. He also serves on boards for The Arc of Salem County and the Salem County Historical Society.
Gallo was recognized for his commitment to a high level of journalism in covering community news and events, and for helping to promote various community initiatives.
Henderson has been very active in the community for many years, and he is currently president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Foundation. He was the first black president of the Rotary Club of Salem, and has served on boards for The Memorial Hospital of Salem County, Stand Up For Salem, and the American Cancer Center.
“This award is special to me because it bears the name of one of the nation’s greatest heroes,” Henderson said. “...I hope Dr. King is able to look down on me and say ‘There’s a worthy person.’ I’m very glad to receive this.”
Johnson is a seventh grade history teacher at the Salem Middle School. He also volunteers as a member of the Salem City Municipal Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse (MAPSA), as a coach, and a member of the “Learning Rounds Team.”
As a teacher, Johnson continuously works to promote effective practices in the classroom, collaboration through learning, developing thinkers and nurturing learners.
Each of the honorees received a plaque, along with certificates from the Salem County freeholders and the Third District Legislatures.
The keynote address for the breakfast was delivered by Rev. Loraine Priestly-Smith, spiritual leader at Haven United Methodist Church in Quinton. Priestly-Smith was the first woman to deliver the event’s keynote address in its 22-year history.
Her address focused on what it means to be a dreamer — someone who challenges the norm, and focuses not on what the world is, but what it can become. Priestly-Smith challenged her fellow dreamers to look beyond themselves, and to dream of a better, more unified future for all mankind.
“Dr. King reminds us that an individual has not started anything until he or she can rise above the narrow confines of our individual concerns, and focuses on the broader concerns of all of humanity,” said Priestly-Smith. “...I pray that we will all join hands and hearts, and work together to build a better future for our nation and the human race.”
The breakfast also featured musical performances by The Cline Singers, and recognition of the Salem City School District Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest winners.
The breakfast closed with all those in attendance joining hands to sing to the old spiritual hymn “We Shall Overcome.”