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Why My Family Lights Luminaries on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day By Kristin Mahoney

January 4, 2018 | By Vanessa Pollock

Every SOMA resident I know has favorite local traditions after a few years of living here: Maplewoodstock, the Memorial Day Maplewood Duck Races, summer concerts on Flood’s Hill. For our family, one of those favorites happens every January on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. On what is often on a cold and blustery night after most decorations from December holidays have been taken down, we bundle into our coats, warm up the car and drive around our two towns to look at a different kind of light show.

Sponsored by the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, the MLK Day Luminary Project will mark its fifth year in 2018, and it provides a wonderful way for families to talk about Dr. King and his message. My girls are now nine and twelve  but even when they were very small they enjoyed decorating our luminary bags with words of peace and hope. Some of the bags would showcase their artwork (hearts, colorful peace signs and images of people holding hands). For other luminaries, the girls would ask to look up quotes from Dr. King, taking care to transcribe them in their best handwriting.

After carefully lining our luminaries along our front steps, we start our drive to see other lights flickering on the walkways of our friends and neighbors. The luminaries have increased in number every year that the project has been in existence; in recent years we have found whole blocks alight with them. Like many other folks in SOMA, I post pictures of our luminaries on Facebook and I’ve been so warmed by the response. Friends from towns in Long Island to North Carolina have expressed interest in starting this project in their own communities, and I can’t help but hope for little constellations of lights spreading across the country as this idea spreads.

I hope you’ll consider participating in the luminary project yourself this year. Luminary kits are only $10 for a set of four and all proceeds help the Community Coalition on Race to promote diversity and inclusivity in our two towns. Not only is this a great tool for teaching our children about the significance of the holiday, but it’s also a wonderful way to show our community’s commitment to Dr. King’s message through the powerful symbol of a light in the darkness.

Purchase Luminaries at Words Bookstore in Maplewood, Sparkhouse toy store in South Orange or at the Coalition’s office. For more information, please see the Community Coalition’s website at www.twotowns.org or call 973-761- 6116.

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