ATLANTIC CITY — Community leaders spoke out Friday against racially charged remarks by President Donald Trump and other national issues during the county’s 31st annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Birthday Celebration.
County Executive Dennis Levinson opened the event by “addressing the elephant in the room.”
“We should be ashamed, disappointed and embarrassed by recent recent remarks made by our president,” Levinson said.
On Thursday, the Washington Post reported Trump used vulgar language to describe counties in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean during a discussion about immigration. Levinson noted the remarks in the Oval Office meeting came only one day before the president signed the official proclamation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day set to honor the civil rights leader.
National issues, including the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “Dreamers,” measure, as well as the rise of U.S. hate groups and racial tensions were mentioned by keynote speaker Rev. Collins A. Days.
“I’ve been to those so-called ‘s-hole countries,’” Days said. “I found them to be resourceful and vibrant, educated people of worth and people who care. The countries that are beautiful, people that are beautiful.”
Days questioned what King would say to the America of today, 55 years after King spoke of a nation where his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
“This country has always been called the ‘melting pot of America.’ There are now people who are stirring the pot, trying to take out the ingredients of the pot,” said Days.
“Our purpose today is to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those who strive to live his message.” said Levinson.
Police Athletic League Executive Director Michael A. Bailey and founder of the Atlantic County Council for Youth Programs Inc. Shermaine Gunter-Gary both received the 2018 MLK Community Spirit Awards.
Gunter-Gary was unable to attend the ceremony due to illness, but her son, Brian, and sister Elaine accepted the award on her behalf.
“We teach the youth in our programs Dr. King’s concept of leadership. My mother wants to thank the Atlantic County government for bestowing this honor on her and giving her the opportunity to honor her own mother through everything she does” Brian Gunter said.
Bailey also thanked the Atlantic County officials, as well as the audience of community members and students who came to the ceremony: “I know that this is nothing of myself, I’m so grateful for the people that came that you have come to share this moment with me.”
“The significance of the award today could not be more needed,” said Days, who received the award in 2014. “There could not have been better nominees, with their tremendous impacts in the community.”