Assemblyman Johnson underlines importance of ‘acceptance’ at Peace Islands luncheon honoring Dr. Martin Luther King on Wednesday, January 20.

Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson, the keynote speaker for Peace Island Institute’s annual luncheon honoring the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., declared that when it comes to diversity dialogue, he prefers the concept of “acceptance” rather than “tolerance.”

Johnson, who represents the 37th district of Bergen County, addressed an audience of about 40 people who attended the luncheon hosted by Peace Islands Institute. Johnson recalled the life and work of King and touched on topical issues such as law enforcement, community relations, the current state of political dialogue and the need to engage young people in productive, positive causes.

“Some folks today talk about tolerance,” Johnson stated during his presentation. “I prefer the concept of acceptance. I think acceptance is a much better word. I understand your customs, your history, and I accept you for who you are as we go through our short life on this earth. That’s acceptance. If we do that, then we are fulfilling Dr. King’s dream.”

He referred to King as “the most important civil rights leader in the history of the United States.” Charismatic figures like King are important to frame issues, lead causes and steer the forces of change, but Johnson said the civil rights struggle during the 1950s and 1960s was successful only because a wide spectrum of people—representing a diverse mix of race, religions and cultures—“got on board to take part in the movement. Young people got together to change America. They acted together to challenge the status quo.”

In order to continue the dream of King and his legacy, Johnson said it’s critical to educate and engage young people through schools, faith-based institutions, social networks and community organizations.

For example, he said it’s essential that people today are made aware of (or reminded of) the dark periods of American history, such as Jim Crow-era segregation, the hundreds of lynching of black men in the deep South, and the domestic terrorist activities of the Ku Klux Klan. “These are things that need to be remembered,” he said. “It’s important that we keep the dream alive. Each one of us has a responsibility.” he said traveling to others countries and experiencing other cultures, or even learning about diversity on the home front, is another elements of that diversity education for young adults.

According to Asm. Johnson, Peace Islands Institute, as an nonprofit organization “strives to bring people together.” Ercan Tozan is the executive director of the New Jersey chapter of Peace Islands Institute, said in his welcoming speech “King would have defined life’s most important mission by asking the questions: “What are you doing for others? What are you doing to help others, especially those in need? Peace Islands Institute works to promote peace. The mission of Peace Islands Institute is similar to the mission of Dr. King.

In 2001, Gordon Johnson was elected as an assemblyman to the NJ legislature. He serves as the chair of the Commerce and Economic Development Committee, the vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee, and is a member of the Budget Committee and the New Jersey Public Safety Commission. Born on Dec. 16, 1949, he was a member of the Englewood Police Department for more than 20 years and served as under-sheriff of Bergen County in 1999. He retired with the rank of Major from the U.S. Army Reserve and was decorated with the National Defense Service Medal, the Bronze Star, and the NATO Service Medal.

A nonprofit organization founded in 2003, Peace Islands Institute hosts various conferences, luncheons and dinners throughout the year, all designed to promote community outreach, good will and neighborly interfaith dialogue. The organization serves as a forum of mutual respect and collaboration, welcoming varied viewpoints and voices with the intent to develop original perspectives on vital issues. The organization, based in New York, with its New Jersey branch located in Hasbrouck Heights.

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