The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund, which raises money for college-bound seniors at Montclair High School, held its 34th annual breakfast on Jan. 16 at the George Inness Annex. 

Representatives from township government, organizations, the school board, the Montclair Police Department and the Fire Department were all present at the breakfast.

The fund’s treasurer, Carol Brown, who has been with the organization since the beginning, said, “We have become more of an integrated breakfast than when we started out.” She said that originally, the fund only had two scholars a year, but now, as support for the fund has grown, it awards four or more. 

Brown and the president of the fund, Stanley E. White, say that the only problem is deciding whom to give scholarships to because of how many deserving applicants there are. Since 1989, the scholarship fund has awarded more than 130 scholarships to seniors and 30 book awards to students. 

This year, Daniel Gill, a social studies teacher at Glenfield Middle School for more than 50 years, was the guest speaker, while former Councilwoman Dr. Renee Baskerville emceed the event. 

“We need to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who called on Americans from all walks of life to work together to bridge barriers,” Baskerville said. “He called on us to build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear. Pass aside bitterness and rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns. It's so important now more than ever.” 

The Montclair High School Madrigal Choir performed musical selections such as “Lift Every Voice and Sing,”  which is known as the Black National Anthem, and “We Shall Overcome.” 

Dante Folson and Mickerson Voicy, students at Cicely L. Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, gave speeches on how young people today can practice and utilize the values that King taught. 

The Rev.Anya Sammler-Michael of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair opened the gathering in prayer and reminded the guests about events in King’s life.  

“It was 94 years ago when Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, 94 years ago,” Sammler-Michael said. “It was 57 years ago when he visited the Montclair High School to give a retirement speech in honor of Rev. Deua C. Rice of the Union Baptist Church. And it was two years after that that his life was stolen in Memphis, Tennessee.” 

In her prayer Sammler-Michael made a connection between King’s legacy and the legacy of James Howe, who was the first African American to own property in Montclair. Howe was enslaved and freed in 1831 by Nathaniel Crane, who also bequeathed a house to him. 

Residents like Florence Demming, who is a board member of the fund, is proud that she gets to see the impact King has more than 50 years later.

“It's reaffirming that Dr. King is still an important part of our lives, people have embraced his philosophies, and he continues to be a standard bearer for what's right in this world. And that makes me feel good,” Demming said. 

Gill’s speech was centered on the theme “Words Do Matter.” He told a story of the first time he remembers witnessing racism, at the age of 9. He went to attend a birthday party with his friend Archie, who was Black. When they knocked on the door, the mother who was hosting the party told Gill that there weren't enough chairs for Archie and that Gill could come but Archie would have to go home. 

“I'll never forget that day. It robbed me of my innocence. It caused humiliation for my good friend,” Gil said. Since then, he said, he has made it a point to actively fight against segregation, and he played an instrumental role in desegregating schools in Montclair. The foundation honored Gill with a plaque to commemorate that role.

Mayor Sean Spiller and council members Peter Yacobellis, Bob Russo, Lori Price Abrams and David Cummings were in attendance. Cummings said, “It's always great to come to this event. It's like a homecoming … The turnout this year shows that Dr. King's life and legacy deserves to be honored. And this is what Montclair does well, we recognize those who made a difference.”

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund accepts donations year-round. For more information, email stanleyw@earthlink.net. 

 

Members of the community enjoy breakfast at the fundraiser for the Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund at the George Inness Annex. (Credit: Talia Adderley/Staff)
Members of the community enjoy breakfast at the fundraiser for the Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund at the George Inness Annex. (Credit: Talia Adderley/Staff)
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