Like many native New Jerseyans of my generation, I developed an awareness and appreciation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through dedicated, insightful public school teachers, bio pics, and documentaries like “Eyes on the Prize”, with the iconic underlying instrumental beat of “Green Onions”, by Booker T and the M.G.s.

I was too young to participate in a march or civil rights rally, but the essay I wrote about Dr, King when I was ten years old was published along with others in the Newark Star Ledger newspaper.

Although my family never had specific discussions about Dr. King, I do have vague memories of watching his funeral on television, and, when I returned home in my early twenties for my father’s funeral, I found a tiny March on Washington button in a long-forgotten corner of the linen closet.

Three years after Stevie Wonder recorded “Happy Birthday”-his plea to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday-I hitched a ride with a writers’ group from Boston to Washington, D.C. for the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington to dip my toes in the reflecting pool and watch the crowd’s reactions to the sound of his recorded voice echoing through the plaza.

Years later, after I moved to Trenton, I recalled the dramatic interpretations of Dr. King’s speeches and the musical tributes I’d enjoyed in Boston and New York City, and I looked forward to discovering how the Capital City would honor him.

As I write this article, I’m flipping through the January 15, 2018 program I saved from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Commemorative Commission’s presentation honoring the late Edith Savage-Jennings, a lifelong Trenton activist, friend of Dr. King, and founding and lifetime member of the Commission.

As a radio Station Manager of volunteers and Studio Producer, I reserved a table every year at the M L King Jr Day of Service recruitment fair held at a local church, but in 2014 I also wanted to develop a more creative service project for the volunteer news broadcast readers and narrators whom I managed for New Jersey’s only (at the time) free radio news reading broadcast for the blind right here in Trenton. Using my choice of a very popular rock song inspired by Dr. King, my Sound Engineer edited the radio program of testimonials that I wrote and produced about the influence of King’s life on a multigenerational, multicultural cross section of our volunteers. While our studio was closed for King’s federal/state holiday, the tribute was programmed to air automatically in our absence.

Our volunteers from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, professions, and ages recalled their perception of Dr, King. One woman said of King, ” I think of three words: faith, determination, and commitment.”

Another volunteer had unknowingly integrated her Florida high school cafeteria in the sixties simply by eating lunch with her Black classmate.

A millennial who grew up in the “new normal” ignorance of social injustice, considering King’s holiday as “just another day off”, was later enlightened and transformed after reading his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”.

A North Trenton native could still remember walking his Black classmate home every day from school in 1939 when he was five years old, and his confusion when she spontaneously kissed him. He never walked her home again.

A sixth grade teacher in 1967 Chicago made an indelible mark on the social consciousness of a nine-year-old student with her knowledge of Dr. King and his teachings.

An East Orange native commuted every day to a renowned Newark prep school in a dangerous, unfamiliar neighborhood on a street that was later to be named, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard”.

The gradual iteration over my lifetime of the Dr. King federal holiday into a National Day of Service is a special legacy gift to my generation and those born after me who never heard him speak in person and never linked arms with him marching in Selma or over the Edmund Pettus bridge.

Our radio broadcast service and audiobook recording studio closed down for good a few years ago. My wonderfully talented Sound Engineer retired after thirty faithful years, and I retired early myself a year later. But every year I still wear one of the “What are you doing for others?” pins that I ordered for our volunteers from the National and Community Service organization for the ML King Jr Day of Service. I wear it to the supermarket, the bank, and on the bus to remind everyone of Dr. King’s legacy. And, maybe even more importantly, to remind myself.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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