Newark Mayor, Ras Baraka, was the keynote speaker at the seventh annual Standing on the Shoulders of Giants Black History Month Celebration in Paterson, Sunday, February 11, 2018.
Kevin R. Wexler/

The 7th Annual “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” Black History Month Celebration, hosted by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, took place on Sunday.

PATERSON — It was church service, history class, political rally, and community spotlight all rolled into one at St. Luke’s Baptist Church on Sunday.

The seventh annual Standing on the Shoulders of Giants Black History Month Celebration, hosted by Sen. Bob Menendez, was packed with local residents and visitors from other cities, including Jersey City and Irvington.

They heard from some of the state’s top politicians, including Menendez, Gov. Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, as well as religious and community leaders. They also witnessed music and dance performances during the nearly two-hour program, which recognized several organizations.

This year’s honorees were the African American Chamber of Commerce, based in Trenton, for its work since 2007 with more than 66,000 African-American business owners in New Jersey, including entrepreneurship programs and technical assistance; the Newark-based African American Heritage Parade and Festival Organization, for its celebration of African-American history, including organizing the annual African American Heritage Statewide Parade and Festival in Newark; and the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice, also in Newark, for its efforts in New Jersey’s urban communities on such matters as economic mobility, criminal justice reform and civic engagement.

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With images of prominent African-Americans projected on a screen high on a corner wall of the church, the event’s mistress of ceremonies, Michelline Davis, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer for RJWBarnabas Health, spoke of how this event is a reminder of the accomplishments of African-Americans of the past.

“We drink from a well that we did not dig,” Davis said. “We literally are only here because of those who literally paved the way before us.”

The main speakers used their time at the pulpit Sunday not only to cite the importance of black history, but also to take to task President Donald Trump.

Murphy, a Democrat, spoke of Sheila Oliver, the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor, whom he called a “history maker,” and Paterson native Larry Doby, the second African-American to play Major League Baseball.

“The wonderful thing about history is that it is not just a celebration about the past, but it also points us to the future,” Murphy said. “Without history, there would be no shared experience from which we can learn.”

Murphy then took a shot at the president as he lauded Menendez for representing New Jersey in Congress.

“Given what we see and hear coming from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, I don’t know what we would do without you,” he said.

Menendez, a Democrat from Paramus who was recently cleared of bribery charges, said Trump has alienated African-Americans in his short time in office.

Trump recently came under fire for reportedly calling African nations “shithole countries.”

“It’s not like we can look to the White House for inspiration,” said Menendez. “The events of the past year have been disappointing, disturbing and disheartening.” 

Menendez then exhorted the attendees to engage in activism and push back, saying: “We cannot let the ignorance and intolerance emanating from this White House define our country.”

Baraka encouraged the audience to remember Black History Month not just in February but throughout the year, as he acknowledged Carter Woodson, who founded the month’s precursor, Negro History Week.

“He created Negro History Week not for us to take time off, or romanticize our accomplishments, but to contemplate on ourselves for a minute,” Baraka said. “To be unapologetically black in the face of hatred and injustice.”



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