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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Ocean City Honors Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Marcia Stanford
Provided

The Rev. Marcia Stanford, of Macedonia United Methodist Communities, addresses the audience during Ocean City’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event Jan. 16.   

By Camille Sailer

OCEAN CITY – For over 30 years, Ocean City has kept its focus every January on honoring the memory and respecting the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as keeping the traditions associated with his annual holiday.  

A bill authorizing a special day commemorating King was introduced in Congress in 1983, and then-President Ronald Reagan signed it into law that same year, establishing a new federal holiday.  

King was born in Atlanta Jan. 15, 1929, and his holiday is marked on the third Monday in January every year. Over the years, another means to celebrate King’s legacy has been the growing movement to couple with the holiday a national day of volunteer service by civic groups and citizen action.  

The King celebration has been held in Ocean City every year since 1990, with the January 2020 event having had the fortuitous timing to come right before Covid restrictions were issued.  

The ceremony was broadcast virtually in 2021 and then held live again in 2022. This year, the event was held Jan. 16.  

Ocean City, in conjunction with the actual commemoration, also sponsors a citywide day of service, which focuses on island cleanup.  

By many measures, Ocean City’s King event is the most elaborate countywide and even regional celebration.  

Mayor Jay Gillian, an active supporter and participant of the city’s associated festivities, likes to cite King’s “we may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”  

Doug Bergen, the city’s public information officer, adds, “In today’s increasingly polarized world, Dr. King’s message rings as true as ever. It’s important for everybody in our community to understand his legacy.”  

According to historical background provided by Bergen, Ocean City’s King recognition event was the first ceremony of its kind in Cape May County. It was organized by the late Rozelia Cobb, a popular special-education teacher at the Ocean City Intermediate School.  

“Rozelia realized the importance of the civil rights leader,” said Bergen. “She believed that young people should learn about his contributions and be involved in the event. Those early programs included Ocean City students and local dancers and singers, with the accent on youth.”  

The program was held this year at the Ocean City Music Pier after many years at the high school’s Hughes Performing Arts Center because of the greater space and easier parking afforded by the pier.  

According to Bergen, “The objective of our Ocean City commemoration is to bring the community together to remember Dr. King through words, song, and dance.”  

In keeping with the celebration’s multiyear successful format, elected and community leaders emphasized King’s core message of justice and fairness for all, while at the same time striving to achieve the elimination of hate and racism.  

One of the event’s highlights each year is the recitation of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by the Rev. Gregory Johnson, of Shiloh Baptist Church. The Rev. Marcia Stanford, pastor at Macedonia United Methodist Communities, gave the keynote remarks. U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) spoke of King’s dream of hope and inclusion for all.   

During the ceremony, two Ocean City citizens were honored for fulfilling the spirit of King’s community service: John Loeper, president of the Ocean City Historical Museum and chairman of U.S. Life Saving Station 30; and Dr. Patrick Kaneformer Ocean City Board of Education president who led the resort’s Covid Committee to help the school district through the pandemic.  

Assemblyman Antwan McClellan (R-1st), who also has served as an Ocean City Council member, presented proclamations to the award recipients. 

Complementing the formal presentations, four students from the city’s Intermediate School read their award-winning essays about the impact King has had on their lives. The students, whose essays were chosen as worthy of recognition at the ceremony, were Kendall Barnes, Sydney Halliday, Gabriel Meron, and Sofia Wright.   

After the program, all were invited to a complimentary, no-cost soul food lunch catered by a local company to continue the spirit of giving and sharing represented by King.  

To contact the author, Camille Sailer, email csailer@cmcherald.com. 

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