U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg stopped by Montclair High School yesterday to meet fellow recipients of the Montclair Democratic County Committee’s annual community service awards. In addition to the senator — who is being honored for his lifetime of service — awards will go to: Phil Easton, Lead Teacher, Center for Social Justice at Montclair High School; Annya Martin and Hannah Rowe, both MHS seniors; Lonnie Brandon, Chairman, Montclair African American Heritage Committee; and Ted Upshaw (posthumously). Awards will be given at a ceremony on Thursday, October 28 at Valley Regency in Clifton.
Attendees to yesterday’s intimate gathering had a chance to chat and share stories of community service activities. Senator Lautenberg asked the students to highlight the “most important” aspects of their work. For Anya Leigh Martin (on left, above), it’s her involvement with the arthritis foundation, while her classmate Hannah Rowe (next from left) felt strongly about her work with Garden State Equality.
Both young women are in the high school’s Center for Social Justice program, and won the scholarship essay contest. According to Easton — one of the program’s founders (in photo above next to Senator Lautenberg) — the curriculum involves looking at real world problems, both in the classroom and beyond. The program, which started with a grant from the federal government, is now a stand-alone program. Easton said that graduates are now working all over the world engaged in many types of social action.
For Lonnie Brandon (show here next to Lautenberg) and his coworker Jim Eason, who run the “Rites of Passage” program at MHS, helping youth to develop into strong and acvtive citizens is at the heart of their work with the Montclair African American Heritage Committee. “It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world to see the kids from our program — now in its 12th year — grow up and have families of their own,” Eason said with much emotion. “This program provides them with direction. A few years back we had 100% of our participants go on to college. That’s a really good feeling, and it makes me really proud.”
Tanya L. Poteat, Vice-Chair of the Montclair Democratic County Committee noted that Brandon is being honored for the longevity of his commitment to the people of Montclair. “He’s had a tremendous impact on the community through social service programs and initiatives,” she said. Poteat added that the annual Montclair African American Heritage Festival and Parade, now in its 22nd year, “is a real community event and has done a lot to bring people together.”
Also at the informal gathering was Brendan W. Gill, Chairman of the MDCC (shown at center of the top photo), as well as other representatives from the organization, MHS Principal James Earle, and pop-in visits from various teachers. It was a time for chatting, and sharing stories of community service.
Rowe’s mention of Garden State Equality segued into the senator talking about a bill he is working on that will “require any college or university receiving federal dollars to educate its students about tolerance, so that all community members can be free from discrimination.”
The senator noted that he has “always tried to do right by people,” and shared some of his memories of growing up poor in Passaic, Belleville and Nutley before moving to South Mountain Avenue in Montclair in his adult years. The senator credited his parents for teaching him to be an involved community member, saying “they left values, not valuables, and taught me to be concerned about people less well off than myself.”
The senator’s lighter side came out, while chatting with the high school girls. “Have you ever heard of Lady Gaga?” he asked. With big smiles, and perhaps a little surprise, Martin and Rowe listened as the 85 year old law maker shared stories about his favorite performer, and the recent concerts that he’s been to.
According to Gill, the senator saw her once and liked her so much that they held a fundraising event at one of her concerts for his 85th birthday.
You can meet the honorees, and maybe hear more of the senator’s wonderful stories of living in what we now call Baristaville at the awards dinner. For more information, call 201-704-1510 or 973-650-1317.
Thursday, October 28, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Valley Regency, 112 Valley Road, Clifton
Donations are $100.