ATLANTIC CITY — Many of the 200 people marching along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Monday shared a common goal: to promote King’s legacy and live by the words of the civil-rights leader and not by those of the president.
“Divisive and hurtful comments by anyone — especially those occupying the highest positions of leadership — do nothing to demonstrate the legacy of Dr. King,” said Barbara Gaba, president of Atlantic Cape Community College. “We need to ask ourselves a few questions: Who do we want to be as a nation, and what are we doing to preserve the legacy of Dr. King?”
Gaba, the first woman president and black president of the college, served as the keynote speaker for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march hosted by the city’s chapter of the NAACP.
The observance drew hundreds to the block that bears the civil-rights leader’s name, from which students, children, residents, elected officials, police officers and firefighters marched to the Civil Rights Garden and later to St. James AME Church for a ceremony.
Some held signs and photos of King and held hands while marching.
City and religious leaders voiced concerns about President Donald Trump, a former resort casino mogul, who was accused last week of using the word “s---hole” to describe African countries.
The White House has not denied Trump used the offensive term, but Trump and some Republicans have disputed accounts of the meeting. Trump defended himself Sunday, declaring he’s “not a racist.”
“The nation and the world was again witness to offensive rhetoric in sharp contrast to the doctrine of Dr. King, and what most Americans believe in,” Gaba said.
Elected officials and city leaders urged people in attendance to instead think about living a life like King’s and speak out against racism and separation.
In the Civil Rights Garden, Mayor Frank Gilliam asked for a moment of silence to honor King, “one of the greatest Americans who ever stepped foot on the planet.”
“We have a president who has caused us to go back in time,” Gilliam said. “Although we see signs of progress, we also see great signs of regress.”
Gilliam encouraged those in attendance that he will “govern with love” and to live King’s legacy to fight inequality.
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, echoed Gilliam’s sentiments, saying the president’s remarks show regression instead of progress.
“We must all work together and make it a better place and keep moving forward,” he said. “Hate has no room in our society.”
City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, also the president of the local NAACP chapter, led the march to honor King.
He mentioned several wrongs he’d like to mend, in addition to Trump’s words, referencing a lack of diversity on the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
“Those are conditions that are unacceptable,” he said. “It’s our goal to make sure that we are going to stand up for civil rights.”
The day of promoting unity and togetherness also was a day of prayer, bringing together religious leaders — including the Rev. Jon Thomas, pastor of the Parish of Saint Monica, Rabbi Jonathan Kremer, of Shirat Hayam, and Rabbi Aaron Krauss, of Beth El Synagogue — to discuss King’s legacy.
Krauss said the idea of having an African-American president, when former President Barack Obama was elected nine years ago, would have been incredible during King’s lifetime.
“The nation turned the corner (that day). Now, it appears the nation is turning another corner,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.