January 10, 2024

Rich Array of Area Events and Service Opportunities Offered for MLK Jr. Day

By Donald Gilpin

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Monday, January 15, will be celebrated throughout the area as a federal holiday, the only holiday described as a National Day of Service. 

Honoring the life and legacy of the civil rights leader, who was born on January 15, 1929 and was assassinated in1968, MLK Jr. Day has been observed for the past 37 years. This year’s commemorations will include many educational, cultural, and religious events and service opportunities in Princeton and throughout central New Jersey.

“In celebrating Dr. King’s 95th birthday, remember, he didn’t specify when we’d reach the Promised Land,” Princeton Councilman Leighton Newlin wrote in an email. “The ongoing struggle for America’s soul echoes from then to now. Black people, integral to America’s foundation, continue fighting for freedom — it’s in our DNA.”

He continued, “In this shared boat, diverse origins converge; the journey is collective, and the fight persists. Dr. King knew that struggles never truly end. If anything, we should channel Dr. King’s courage as we continue to engage in the ever-present struggle that is Democracy itself.”

All of the following events will take place on Monday, January 15 unless otherwise indicated.

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) will be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a free poster-making workshop for all ages from 1-3 p.m. Attendees will be provided with materials to create their own poster on the topic of social justice in relation to King’s life’s work. 

The ACP notes that the use of protest posters dates back to the 16th century and they are still a powerful tool to amplify one’s voice in the community.  “From issues like racism and police violence to organized resistance, today’s protest posters continue to feature hard-hitting slogans and bold artwork to communicate one’s point of view,” the ACP wrote in a press release.

Snacks will be provided, and the ACP will collect canned goods for a food drive to benefit Princeton Nursery School. This event is supported by Princeton University, Dozie Ibeh, and Lydia and John Pfeiffer. 

From 4:30 to 6 p.m. the ACP, in partnership with the Princeton University Office of Campus Engagement, will be presenting an artist talk with artist, educator, and quilter Ronah Harris.

“The practice of quilting preserves memory through the use of repurposed fabrics, and for women artists and Black makers, the quilt also plays a vital role in protest,” according to an ACP press release.

The Nassau Presbyterian Church on Nassau Street will be the site of a 7 p.m. Multifaith Service in honor of King’s legacy. It is sponsored by the Princeton Clergy Association and the Princeton-based Coalition for  Peace Action.

The Rev. Carla Jones Brown, pastor of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, will be preaching, diverse faith leaders will co-lead the liturgy, and a pickup multifaith choir will perform. Brown is the first woman and first African American to serve as senior pastor/head of staff in Arch Street Presbyterian Church’s history. Visit peacecoalition.org for further information.

In partnership with the Paul Robeson House of Princeton, the Princeton Middle School (PMS) will host its second annual MLK Day teach-in, inviting people to learn more about  “Wives and Women of the Civil Rights Movement.” The session from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at PMS will be presented by Princeton Public Schools, the Princeton Historical Society, the Lost Souls Project, and the Princeton University Library Special Collections. It will focus on developing interdisciplinary lessons about the life and legacy of Paul Robeson for all content areas and ages.

Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS) is urging volunteers to step up and take the opportunity to serve the community in half-day, family-friendly sessions at the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve. “Volunteers make a world of difference in maintaining this oasis of natural beauty in the heart of Princeton, and it’s an excellent way to honor the memory of Dr. King,” wrote FOPOS Director of Natural Resources and Stewardship Anna Corichi. 

Participants will work with the FOPOS stewardship team at the Mountain Lakes preserve to remove invasive plants, free established trees from the grips of invasive vines, gain skills in plant identification, and learn about the pressures faced by New Jersey’s forests.  There will be sessions from 10 a.m.-12 noon and/or 1-3 p.m. Volunteers should meet at the Mountain Lakes parking lot with work gloves and sturdy shoes. Register at fopos.org/getinvolved.

Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands is also offering a MLK Day service opportunity —  this one in the Mapleton Preserve in Kingston from 12 to 3 p.m. The focus is on removing invasive vines from trees in the Preserve and on litter pickup.  The Preserve asks volunteers to bring saws, clippers, loppers, and rakes if you can. Work gloves, sturdy shoes, warm clothing, and hats are necessary. Call (609) 683-0483 for more information.

Across Route 1, West Windsor Arts and the West Windsor African American Parent Support Group are teaming up with local nonprofits to provide much needed assistance to the people they serve. Volunteers are needed to package donations for distribution and to participate in special projects from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at West Windsor Arts, 952 Alexander Road in Princeton Junction. Visit westwindsorarts.org for registration and further information about donations needed for RISE Community Services, Children’s Home Society, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, PEI Kids, Womanspace, Mill Hill Child Development Center, and Letters Against Isolation.

The 43rd Annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast will be held at the Hyatt Regency Princeton from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. with a theme of “Shine a Light on Him — Make Room and Let’s Work” and hosted by the Ivy League Educational Foundation of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, with tickets for the event available at $35 to $100.

On the following Saturday, January 20, also at the Hyatt Regency Princeton, the SEED (Servants Endeavoring to Empower and Develop) 14th MLK Commemorative Breakfast will take place to celebrate King and his impact. Attendees will discuss King’s teachings and the ongoing effort to achieve equality and justice. Tickets cost $70 with all proceeds benefiting SEED and Heal the City initiatives.

Mercer County Community College (MCCC) will be hosting a day of giving at MCCC’s James Kerney Campus (JKC) at 102 North Broad Street, Trenton. All are welcome, and service projects include a sock drive, utensil wrap up and bag lunches, a community clean up, building raised beds for the Trenton Hall Garden, Kidspack 2.0, and Blessing Bags.

Registration will take place from 8-9 a.m. in the JKC front lobby. Opening remarks will follow in Kerney Hall, and after completion of the service projects, lunch will be provided by the MCCC Foundation followed at 1:30 p.m. by a Service Celebration Performance at Trenton Hall, 137 North Broad Street. Visit mccc.edu/mlk_dos for more information.

Also taking place in Trenton will be a concert performed by Capital Harmony Works and the Princeton Symphony Orchestra at Turning Point Methodist Church, 15 South Broad Street, at 3 p.m.

In Lawrenceville the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville at 2688 Main Street will be sponsoring a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service beginning at 10 a.m. “We have the same dream! Join us for a morning of service projects and dream sharing,” their flyer urges. Participants are encouraged to bring non-perishable food and used book donations.

As Princeton area residents make their plans for the celebration of King’s 95th birthday, Newlin advises, “On the day be respectful and thoughtful, and recognize and recommit to the principles of democracy and humanity.” And, in a “shout-out to Congressman John Robert Lewis,” he added, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get into some ‘good trouble.’”