January 16, 2012,
Organizations all over
had Camden MLK Day events on Monday. But one church
decided to take a different approach to honoring and remembering Dr. King.
About 80 students (middle school through college) from around the region met at St. Anthony of
Cramer Hill neighborhood for a day of community organizing,
instead of service. Camden
“We feel that community service dilutes” Dr. King’s mission and message to the people, said Fr. Jud Weiksnar, pastor at St. Anthony of
So, instead of performing service, youths and church leaders met with some city and county officials to ask about abandoned homes and illegal dumping in
They also walked the neighborhood to see the results of earlier group
leadership, such as a community garden and the finally vacant field where the
House once stood and which will soon be the site of a playground. Camden
“It was a really unique experience for the kids,” Weiksnar said. Dr. King “wanted people to get organized and work for justice.”
In the middle of
Camden Bergen Square neighborhood,
among rows of vacant and boarded-up homes, 940 Newton
Ave. looks no different.
But to the few dozen people who showed up today, including Young Urban Leaders founder and School Board Member Sean Brown, the house is special. According to legend, the rowhouse was Martin Luther King Jr.’s residence while he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in
in the late 1940s. Chester
On Monday, Brown and a Who’s Who of young Camden leaders – including Felix Moulier, a chair of one of the District Council Collaborative Boards; Keanna Ralph, who served as spokeswoman for former Mayor Gwendolyn Faison; Micah Khan, of the Nehemiah Group; Elton Custis, former City Council candidate –- ripped open the boarded-up door and started cleaning up the house. The partially burnt shell will be transformed into office space for the Young Urban Leaders, a group of community-involved
residents roughly between the ages of 20 and 35, to host seminars and help Camden
youths with college applications. Camden
Once Heart of Camden receives the title for the property, it will turn it over to the Young Urban Leaders. It is currently going through the foreclosure process.
“It will be a shrine and inspiration to all of us,” Fr. Michael Doyle, of
, told the crowd
standing at the house, near a giant pile of debris. Sacred Heart
For the record, I checked with local historians Paul Schopp and Phil Cohen to get confirmation on Dr. King’s stay in
They both said that unless there is concrete proof (i.e.- phone records,
genealogy reports) they aren’t buying the claim that the future civil
rights leader lived in Camden . Camden
“As far as I know, Martin Luther King Jr. never stepped foot in
,” Schopp said. Camden
Cohen went further and while I was on the phone with him, he checked a phone book from 1947, when Dr. King was in seminary (Cohen loves this stuff, check out his website which is full of fun Camden history--http://www.dvrbs.com/) and found that a Russell Pierce lived at 940 Newton then. So unless someone can prove a connection between Pierce and Dr. King, he isn’t buying it the claim either.
I told Sean Brown, the founder of Young Urban Leaders, and he agreed that he does not have concrete proof, but he is confident that Dr. King did live there at some point.
Nevertheless, Brown and company got together on a frigid day to honor Dr. King and start transforming a dirty, charred house into a community gathering spot.
“Martin Luther King Day is a day to honor his legacy by doing service work around the country,” Brown said. “We agreed it would be the perfect day to start restoring the house.”