WEST LONG BRANCH — There are many lessons to be learned from the words and actions of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., — lessons about civil rights, social and economic justice – but also lessons about commitment to community, self-reliance and moving beyond obstacles.
Those themes were stressed by Abraham Lopez, director of Hispanic Affairs for the Office of the Governor, who was the keynote speaker at the 23rd annual YMCA breakfast in honor of the slain civil rights leader.
More than 300 people attended the breakfast, which honors the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. each year on the federal holiday that celebrates his contributions to the nation.
A particular goal of this year’s event was to communicate to the largely youthful audience the importance of giving to the community through volunteerism, explained Andrea Plaza, vice president for communications and collaborations at the Community YMCA, Red Bank. To stress the point, at each of the place settings for the nearly 300 in attendance, was a card for attendees to complete offering their availability for service projects the Y was organizing.
“I really, really believe we’ve been called to serve,” said Lopez in his remarks to the audience, building on the day’s theme. “We’ve seen it large and small that every day makes a difference,” he added.
Lopez said he was raised in Jersey City and is the youngest son of a Pentecostal minister, and had served as deputy coalitions director for the Christie-Guadagno campaign, with the Governor naming him in March 2011 as the executive director for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development for the NJ Department of State.
Along with the message of volunteerism, Lopez offered his tough take on the limitations that we place on ourselves, saying “Each individual possesses the power to lift him or herself up,” and each should refuse to fall back on excuses such as blaming family dysfunctions for our inability to succeed. “Great things come from dysfunction,” he said.
This event, sponsored by the Community YMCA and the YMCA of Western Monmouth County, is largely aimed at local youth, instilling in them the importance and continuing relevance of King’s message and work on what would have been his 83rd birthday on Sunday, and more than 40 years after his assassination. County students express their views through an essay contest, and the Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter E. Warshaw Jr. presents one student with the humanitarian award. This year’s recipient, Tiara Anderson, 18, Neptune, said, “My commitment to service is something I take very seriously,” as she volunteers at the local senior center and a soup kitchen and offers her time to baby-sit for the PTA.
The day’s messages resonated with Lucille Allgood, who was marking the third year in a row she attended the breakfast. Allgood, an African-American who now lives in Ocean Township, was a Red Bank resident for 45 years and ran her business, Lucille’s Catering, for about a quarter of a century. “I never dreamed I would have my own catering business for over 25 years,” she said, adding that she counts those customers as her friends.
“My dream came true,” she said. “All seven of my kids went to college.”