Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is still clear that only an unyielding commitment can better the quality of life for minorities in our community and counter stubborn ignorance. On a cold December night in Pleasantville, I met with a small group of volunteers with such a commitment.
As a boy, my father taught me we are all God's children, interconnected in life, and what you do to your brother, you do to yourself. So, when I was asked nearly 20 years ago to serve as the solicitor for the Atlantic City chapter of the NAACP, I didn't hesitate to say yes. I remain honored to be a life member of an organization with such a long and proud history of commitment to the advancement of equality for all of us.
Racial attitudes in America have improved much since since I was a boy, when King shared his dream of true racial equality from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As King led the national effort on civil rights, Atlantic County had its own civil-rights pioneers - Horace J. Bryant, Joseph Allmond, Margaret Hiawatha, Karlos LaSane, C.J. and Gertrude Newsome, Hank Tyner, Dennis Braithwaite and, of course, Pierre Hollingsworth, who took on every local civil-rights challenge for a quarter of a century.
Today, we have countless minorities involved in government and local business standing on the shoulders of these giants. These leaders embody King's advice, "We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
However, ignorance is a persistent thing. Regrettably, all too often, minority involvement is limited to urban settings. It is incumbent upon all of us to reach out and work with groups, such as the NAACP, to encourage and foster more diversity within our government and business community.
That is why 17 dedicated members of the Mainland/Pleasantville chapter of the NAACP gathered recently in a small room at a local library to prepare for the upcoming year. Over trays of sliced subs and cookies, the members, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, chatted about how to fulfill the association's mission to ensure "political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination."
During the meeting, I had the privilege of swearing in the newly elected officers for the upcoming year. I spoke with the new president, Olivia Caldwell, who indicated there are five issues she wants to focus on in order to raise public consciousness: the level of violence in the community, teen pregnancy, voter awareness, minority owned businesses, and more minority representation on all of the boards throughout the county to better represent the diversity throughout our community.
As the local eyes and ears of the NAACP, these individuals bear their membership duties earnestly. They remain vigilant against racial discrimination, the most repugnant transgression against individual liberty. They are equally ready to stand up against offensive behavior and to serve as models for cooperation and understanding.
Of course, more active members would help the cause. Like most volunteer-driven organizations, the chapter spends considerable amount of effort trying to attract and retain members. This year, the NAACP will try a new tactic. It will rotate the locations of its monthly meetings around the county. It will hold its meetings in three consecutive months in Pleasantville, Mays Landing, Galloway Township and Egg Harbor Township, respectively. With the help of the media and articles such as this, I hope the word spreads and interests rises.
I encourage people to at least stop in to one of the meetings or go to the group's website - mlpnaacp.org.
Thankfully, we are blessed as a community to have people such as those in the Mainland/Pleasantville chapter who not only look up to King and Pierre Hollingsworth, but who also have the courage to stand on their shoulders and continue their work toward realizing the dream.
Assemblyman Chris Brown, of Ventnor, is a Republican representing Atlantic County.