By Samantha Werkheiser
ESU joined the nation in observing the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday by holding their twenty-first annual celebration breakfast on Monday Jan. 15.
Similar to past years, the event was sold out, with over 400 people in attendance.
The breakfast began with Javier Gooden, a spoken word artist, giving a powerful rendition of one of King’s famous speeches.
“The Beloved Community” was the theme of this year’s celebration.
“50 years after Martin Luther King’s passing, we still hold on and remember his global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of this earth.
His understanding of the beloved community was that poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated, and also our understanding of human decency will not commit us to allow it,” said Director of Multicultural Affairs Juanita Jenkins when describing what “The Beloved Community” means.
Jenkins encouraged people to leave behind any prejudice beliefs they may have, and replace them with “an all inclusive spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood”.
After Jenkin’s introduction, President Welsh thanked the audience for continuing to support the Gertrude Mary Smith Boddie Scholarship Award.
Gertrude Mary Smith Boddie was the first African-American to graduate from ESU, and the first African-American to graduate from a Pennsylvania State Normal School.
Welsh recognized the members of Boddie’s family and the many supporters of ESU who took time to attend the breakfast.
Father Jerry Shantillo of St. Matthew’s Church gave an invocation which focused on making the world a better place through love.
The Julianna V. Bolt Art Awards were given to three local high school students.
These awards honor artwork that capture King’s vision, or are an artistic rendering of King himself.
“I would stand here and say a bunch of nice things about her, but I get choked up,” said Wayne Bolt when trying to speak about his late wife.
For the second year in a row, Christie Lee of Stroudsburg High School won first place. Hannah DeFino and Tony Flores, both of Stroudsburg High School, won second and third place respectively.
ESU Voices of Triumph Praise Team performed a musical selection following this set of awards.
ESU senior Sean D’Avilar then gave spoken words about the importance of having a voice, speaking your mind and choosing love over hate and violence.
Dr. Patricia Graham, a former member of ESU faculty, gave a brief introduction for the keynote speaker Reverend Jeffrey Brown.
Brown is an ESU graduate and was the first African-American student body president of ESU.
He chose ESU because his mother and family friend Dr. Neal Simpson encouraged him to attend.
He called his time at ESU a “life-changing experience” and thanked many of his mentors, including Simpson, for guiding him in the right direction.
Following his graduation, Brown became a pastor at a church in Boston.
During his time there, Brown found that gang violence had begun to take over the community.
“When I started pastoring at a church in the Boston area, I was doing everything that normal pastors would do but something was happening in my community that got my attention. And that was the homicide rate started to rise. There were young people shooting and killing each other for reasons that I thought were trivial,” said Brown.
At first, Brown said he began to hold sermons focusing on peace and love but found that there still wasn’t a big change in the community. Brown said that the bulk of the funerals he spoke at were young men and women whose lives were taken by “street violence”, whether this was actual involvement in a gang or just for being a bystander.
Brown realized that what he had been doing wasn’t working, and that a change needed to be made.
“I was trying to reach at-risk youth and nothing happened. But then something happened to me that changed everything,” said Brown when describing a tragic incident in which a young man died had died 150 feet from Brown’s church.
Brown realized that even if the young man had been able to make it to the church, he wouldn’t have found help because the church was empty.
Brown began to reach out to the community by talking to actual gang members to better understand the violence that was going on.
He tried to make connections and relationships with people on the streets.
“Once I started to listen and not preach, which is hard for a Baptist preacher to do, and to be able to look at the youth not as a problem to be solved, but look at them for what they are. Human beings,” said Brown.
Because of his and many other’s new initiative of connecting with these people, Boston saw the violent crime rate drop by 79 percent.
Brown went on to become the founder of Rebuilding Every City Around Peace, a foundation that helps communities with urban violence.
Following Brown’s speech, Vocal Variations performed a musical selection.
Next, the Gertrude Mary Smith Boddie Scholarship Awards were given to public health major Destinee Ward, special education major Doreen Lwanga and business management Theresa Chey for their dedication to carrying on Dr. King’s philosophy of social justice by involvement in the community.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Award was given to Theresa Chey for her activism on campus.
The Staff Award was given to Maria Lourdes M. O’Kane, the executive office manager for student affairs, for her continuing support of the ESU community.
The Community Member Award was given to Thomas Braxton Jones, Jr., the president of the Monroe County branch of the NAACP.
The ceremony closed with another musical selection by Vocal Variations.
ESU will be holding their fifth annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of service on Fed. 6 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Lower Level of SciTech and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Henry A. Ahnert Jr. Alumni Center.
For more information on the day of service visit https://www.esu.edu/students/multicultural_affairs/mlk_day_service.cfm.
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