Mayoral Musings: MLK Day of Service

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Holiday in Bridgeton was a day of service to honor a man who died as he lived, serving others.

January 15th is the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday but unlike other holidays that we observe, the MLK holiday should be one of service. This is only right and fitting because if you push past the “CliffsNotes” version of the man’s life, you realize his was a life dedicated to serving humanity no matter what the cost.

In early 1968, he was focused on the Poor People’s Campaign. Then Memphis sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker were killed in a garbage truck on February 1 because of substandard working conditions and appeals came to him from local church leaders for help on behalf of striking sanitation workers. He responded. That’s why he was on that balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4 in view of James Earl Ray. He died as he lived…serving others.

Five decades after his death, when we honor the memory of the man and consider his legacy, at least in my mind, we should do so through serving others.  That’s why the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in Bridgeton saw a mix of clergy, youth, and community volunteers tying their service in with Bridgeton’s Code Blue network. 

We all know how cold it has been over the last three weeks and the Code Blue warming centers have been going nonstop since before the New Year. With daytime highs in the 20s and nighttime lows in the single digits, it’s been all hands on deck to ensure that those without a place can escape the freezing cold, get a hot meal and perhaps a little sleep in a safe space.

What sometimes gets missed in the work of the Code Blue program is that the warming centers themselves are the basements and activity rooms of local churches participating in the program. When Code Blue is in effect for weeks at a time as has been the case lately, there is literally no time to do the more intensive kind of care and maintenance of these spaces that might otherwise happen under less intense conditions.

VIDEO: South Jersey Celebrates MLK Day 

With that in mind, the MLK holiday was a day of service where the mix of youth, community volunteers, and clergy gathered to do some deep cleaning of our Code Blue spaces, including washing, waxing, polishing, scrubbing and whatever else seemed appropriate in order to ensure that these spaces used for Code Blue are as they should be. We met at St. Andrews Church at 183 E. Commerce Street for service from 9 to 11 a.m. Just two hours of service can accomplish much when we all work together.

You would be surprised, but the wear and tear adds up quickly as Code Blue days turn into weeks and then months. This effort at cleaning is not only to ensure a tidy and clean space for those seeking shelter, but it is also a way to say “thank you” to congregations that have been kind enough to open their doors in the name of service for those less fortunate. We never want to take this generosity for granted or disrespect the space itself and ensuring that we treat it with some TLC keeps us grounded.

After we completed our work, we gathered to break bread together and enjoy some fellowship. At presstime, I was also anticipating a visit from a member of Governor-elect Murphy’s cabinet as our new governor will be recognizing a statewide day of service in honor of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. This came a day before Mr. Murphy was sworn in at the Trenton War Memorial on January 16.

The MLK holiday will not be the only day of service in the community. We have a variety of service opportunities, including clean-up days and roadside clean-ups throughout the year. But the MLK holiday is one day that reminds us of why service is important and what a life looks like when it is centered on concern for other people and the nation as a whole.

There are many things to divide us but it need not be this way. No matter our nationality or race, we all hope to be at peace and we all want to make it home at the end of the day to loved ones. It’s not easy to overcome fear, but it’s easier when we stand serving together and when we sit and break bread together.

My hope is that you consider joining us in future efforts.

Video: Civil Rights Icon Visits Camden to Preserve MLK Piece of History 

Video: Two More State Senators Join Fight to Preserve Historic MLK Home 

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