RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — As hundreds united in song at the 34th annual Glen Rock and Ridgewood Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Monday, it was difficult to miss Sunita Kapur and her colorful dress.
“Today is about equality," said Kapur, a Hindi from Midland Park who sang the prayer of peace. “All of the colors are together on one garment -- just like in one world.”
Old and young shared the spirit -- among them, three toddlers of different races who locked eyes and exchanged smiles in the rear pews of Ridgewood United Methodist Church. They may not have grasped the significance, but the youngsters rose and clapped with their parents.
“[Today] is the celebration of a legacy I’ve inherited,” U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, the keynote speaker, told Daily Voice afterward. “We honor [Martin Luther King Day] by paying it forward with common sacrifice and struggle to make sure our nation lives up to its greatest promise.”
Booker's parents were among the first black employees hired by IBM. King stirred them to political activism -- his mother, in fact, helped organize one of the mid-60s marches to Washington, D.C.
Born in the nation's capital, Booker was a few months old when his parents ran into trouble buying a house in suburban Bergen County in 1969.
After finding an ideal home on Harrington Park's Norma Road, the Bookers turned to the Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey, which sent a white couple who pretended to be interested.
The imposters didn't show for the closing, of course, but his parents did -- along with a Jewish lawyer, Booker told Monday's gathering. This angered the real estate agent, who punched the lawyer and set his dog on Booker's father.
In the end, the owners sold to his parents, Booker said, to the crowd's delight.
Attendees included a dozen religious leaders in the first two pews of the main sanctuary. The remaining pews were filled, as well -- each as diverse as the next -- with more congregants standing in back.
Booker also advocated for reforming the American criminal justice system, of which an estimated 70% of those incarcerated are poor, have mental illnesses or have been arrested on non-violent drug charges. He also noted that drug users of color were more likely to be arrested than whites.
"Nothing will change unless we do," he said. "We cannot allow our inability to do everything to undermine our determination to do something."
Several fellow politicians attended -- among them, mayors Paul Aronsohn of Ridgewood and Bruce Packer of Glen Rock and village Council members Gwenn Hauck and Albert Pucciarelli.
RUMC Minister Victor Peterson told Daily Voice the ceremony "allows our community to come together with many cultures, ethnicities, religions -- to be one in a spirit of justice, love and peace.”
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