A spirited and diverse crowd began the day with a march through the neighborhood surrounding the East Camden Community Fellowship Church. Colorful signs and banners invited the community to a festive day of food for the mind and body.

“We must continue Dr. King’s unfinished work,” said convener Dr. A.S. Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad. “The city of Camden has great needs. With adequate resources this could be a beautiful city.”

Camden has a population of nearly 80,000, with one-third living below the poverty line. Once an industrial city, it now suffers from the loss of its factories and manufacturing facilities, making it a city plagued by high unemployment, drugs and guns. In 2004 and 2005 Camden was declared “the most dangerous city” in the nation, although crime decreased in 2006.

Speakers called for an end to the Iraq war and a transfer of funds from the Pentagon’s bloated budget to domestic needs. Larry Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress, based in Newark, N.J., gave a detailed history of the civil rights movement going back to the 1950s and showed how African Americans have lost ground in achieving equality in education, health, housing and economic opportunities.

Hamm invited those present to participate in an Aug. 25 statewide march and rally for justice and peace in Newark, to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The South Jersey Movement for Justice and Peace said it will try to fill two buses for the event.

The Rev. Bob Moore, director of the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, N.J., and John Grant, representing Veterans for Peace, spoke about the suffering of war and the need for peace. Other speakers described the daily crisis that millions of people face because they have no health care, affordable housing or opportunities for living wage jobs and quality education. Each speaker linked the cuts in spending for people’s needs to the billions of dollars being wasted on the war.

One speaker quoted Dr. King, “A nation that continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

Diane Lackey, Philadelphia area Black Radical Congress co-chair, spoke about her organization’s programs: education not incarceration or militarism, and voter education. “Our youth need hope for a better future,” she said.

Vendors sold homemade foods and beautiful arts and crafts items. A flea market provided many bargains. Music and poetry added a cultural touch.

phillyrose623 @verizon.net