Although the more than 100 people at the fourth Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon knew a tribute was on the program, many looked surprised when the recorded voice of Dr. King's 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech filled the room.
The luncheon, put on by the Bayonne Youth Center in an effort to help keep King's memory and teachings alive, also paid tribute to one of the center's own, outgoing President Margaret Hamiel, who had served in various capacities at the center for 35 years.
Born in South Carolina, Hamiel was an elementary school teacher in Jersey City for more than 20 years before retiring in 1995, but was deeply involved with Bayonne for more than 40 years as a parishioner of the Friendship Baptist Church, where she became actively involved at a variety of levels. In 1962, she also joined the Pride of Bayonne Temple No. 266 (Elks), serving in leadership roles over the years. She is a member, vice president and assistant treasurer of the Bayonne Branch of the NAACP. She is also a member of the Bayonne Faith Based Center and The Friends of the Bayonne Public Library. She has received many awards during her long service. But it is her role as a member of the Bayonne Youth Center that brought her to this special day.
Among the line of dignitaries and their representatives to pay tribute to her were Mayor Joseph Doria, who read a proclamation naming Jan. 16, 2006 "Margaret Hamiel Day" in Bayonne; City Council members Ted Connolly and Maria Karczewski, Rep. Donald Payne, and many devoted followers.
Hamiel's 'positive impact'
In a written statement given to Hamiel by a representative, Payne said Hamiel had had "a positive impact on many lives."
Others who knew her from her various volunteer efforts heaped additional praise upon her and gifts that included flowers, hugs and good wishes.
In a voice that seemed remarkably sedate for the accomplishments she achieved, Hamiel thanked everyone, including the support from the city, and gave a brief history of the Youth Center, which opened its doors in 1945.
"My desire and hope is that the door will remain open so it can continue to do what it has always done," she said. "I've tried to make a difference in the lives of our youth. I am grateful of this recognition - especially on a day like this, when we are honoring Dr. King. I have tried using Dr. King as a role model."
Memories of Dr. King
While speaker after speaker sang Hamiel's praises, many also had recollections of Dr. King and the civil rights movement of which he was a part.
King's speech reminded some that a bus full of Bayonne residents had made the trip to Washington, D.C. to hear King's speech, and how it was one that King had given earlier that year in Detroit, but received much more notice under the media spotlight in the nation's capital.
Although only one or two of those bus riders in the 1963 are still alive, the people at the luncheon said the dream still was.
Shirley Doris Belle, chairperson for the Bayonne Youth Center, introduced the mistress of ceremonies, Jonnice Knight Blake, who then introduced speaker after speaker, each of whom presented their tributes to Hamiel and their memories of King.
The Hi-Hat sometimes rocked with the feeling of a religious revival, especially when the Friendship Baptist Church Senior Choir shook the air with their musical renditions normally reserved for church services, an energy that had nearly every foot tapping and every person in the room moving in his or her chair.
Even the mime troop, Blessed Expressions, charged the room with a sense of faith and hope, as three young performers pantomimed to a religious song called "Thank you."
Mayor Joseph Doria told the audience that he had once shaken the hand of Dr. King, when St. Peter's College in Jersey City bestowed an honorary degree on the minister in 1965.
"This was something unusual at the time," Doria recalled. "He spoke and he was impressive."
Doria called him a charismatic leader who despite death threats being made against him paused to talk with the students.
"He impressed and amazed me," Doria said. "He stressed the need for us to work together, no matter our ethic, racial or religious background."
Doria remembered King saying that the vision of the founding fathers of the United States had not yet been achieved.
"That was 40 years ago. And while we have gone forward, we still have a way to go," he said.
In a tribute that led to the playing of the "I Have a Dream" speech, a tribute prepared by Eric Robinson and Barry Smith, Robinson recalled going to Washington, D.C. and hearing what eventually became an inspiring speech for the nation and the world.
The struggle is not over
Perhaps the most powerful part of the luncheon came as a result of the keynote speech by Dr. Gloria Boseman, a Newark-born healthcare professional, with a resume and speech-making ability that resembled some of the more radical activists of the 1960s.
She refused to stand behind the podium for her speech, but wandered around the Hi-Hat, weaving through the guests in a revival-like sermon that covered many of the ills of today's society, and the obstacles that currently stand in the way of youth in African-American and other communities.
"Dr. King said he had a dream, but it was more than a dream," she said. "It was a way of looking as society. Dr. King was a revolutionary the way Jesus was."
While evil exists in the world, she said part of Dr. King's message was that the righteous had to do something about it.
Boseman's message was the same as King's, a call to arms, saying that the righteous have to take a stand against the ills in the world, in particular in directing their own children away from those things that will inhibit their health and their freedoms in the future.
She attacked the impact of sugar and growing problem of obesity that promises medical problems for kids when they get older. She said parents need to monitor their children's involvement with popular culture, saying that an African-American child should know the dates of important events in civil liberation as well as they know the names of rap recording artists.
In a speech that lasted nearly 40 minutes, Boseman blasted many in the African-American community as being in a coma or dead. She said that while those in attendance at the luncheon were better informed, they, too, were on life support. She said each child in the African community needs to remember the heritage that brought them out of slavery, and how much people in the past had worked for the freedom many kids have today, even if the full measure of opportunity has yet to be realized.
"We are overcomers," she said. "But many people aren't thinking right."
Her speech blasted video games, lack of exercise, overeating, bad diets, wrong influences, and a host of other ailments that the community needed to guard against.
"It is time for new movements," she said, claiming that in the past people instilled too much in the leadership. "So when the leaders were gone, so were the movements."
She said each person needed to revive his or her mind, body and spirit.
"Freedom can be lost if you don't guard it with your life," she said.
The speech brought people in the room to their feet, shouting agreement and praise.