rev sparks mlk speakerPHOTO:  Rev. Ronald. L. Sparks

Red Bank, NJ – The Community YMCA and the YMCA of Western Monmouth County are pleased to announce their 30th Annual Commemorative Breakfast celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 21, 2019, from 8 to 10 a.m., at Branches Catering, 123 Monmouth Road, West Long Branch.

The annual event honors the civil rights leader, recognizes student essay winners and encourages community service in memory of Dr. King.

“The Y is proud to be an organization that brings people together from all ages, incomes and backgrounds every day,” said Laurie Goganzer, president and chief executive officer of The Community YMCA. “We are honored to host this 30th year milestone event to celebrate unity as Dr. King modeled, and to share his teachings with the youth in our communities.”

Presenting the keynote address at the event will be Ronald. L. Sparks, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Freehold, which recently celebrated its 170th anniversary. Rev. Sparks is a native of Toledo, Ohio, and has been employed with Agilent Technologies, Inc., formally Hewlett-Packard, for the past 25 years. He served for six years in the United States Air Force, before accepting his call to ministry in 1997. He was mentored by his father, Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Saunders, former pastor of North Stelton AME Church in Piscataway. In 2005, Rev. Sparks began his pastoral ministry at St. Paul AME Church in South Bound Brook.

In addition to pastoring, Rev. Sparks is a member of the Freehold Clergy Association, works with Casa Freehold, an organization supporting immigration issues, and is a member of the NJ Black Multi-Faith Alliance. He, along with other faith and community leaders, was instrumental in reestablishing the Freehold Chapter of the NAACP. Rev. Sparks believes it is important for all to understand our history. “Because if we understand our history, we will recognize that we are not standing alone, but rather, we are standing on the shoulders of those who stood before us,” he stated.

Each year, local students are invited to participate in an essay contest in conjunction with the event. Winners of this year’s annual MLK Essay Contest are Solange Skarecki, a sophomore at Asbury Park High School, and Ned Bryant, a junior at Freehold Regional High School. The students will read their winning essays about how Dr. King, if alive today, would bring people together to address America’s “social crisis.” The essay winners will also each be presented a $500 scholarship, generously sponsored by Hackensack Meridian Health and New Jersey Natural Gas.

In service to the community, the Ys are collecting new or gently-used children’s books to support Bridge of Books Foundation, a nonprofit that provides an ongoing source of books to underserved children throughout New Jersey.

“One of the key purposes of this community gathering is to honor Dr. King by encouraging service to others,” Goganzer said. “We are pleased to support literacy development and a love for reading in our youth, and we encourage all those attending the event to bring a book donation.” 

Books may also be dropped off at the Freehold YMCA, Red Bank Family YMCA, YMCA Camp Zehnder in Wall, YMCA Children’s Achievement Center in Matawan and the Y’s Administration Office in Shrewsbury.

Tickets for the breakfast are $30 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. Seating is limited. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.cymca.org/MLK, call 732.671.5505, ext. 119, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..