Feature Photo: Some of the men attending the Kings Dinner put on by Salem City Councilman Tim Gregory. Photo courtesy of Steven Young
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By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
SALEM – City councilman Tim Gregory called the gathering just the beginning, the tip of the iceberg and the first step in a vision of bringing African American men together from all walks of life to talk about community, networking and unity.
The Kings Dinner for Community and Community Leaders Collaboration Empowerment held at Suite 136 in downtown Salem on Sunday (April 24) was small, but the talk was high-minded, visionary and purposeful.
The gathering included former Salem Mayor Charles Washington, award-winning Atlantic City community activist Steven Young and other business owners and leaders with ideas about how men can come together.
"I had a dream about getting all the black men that I knew who were doing positive things in a community together," said Gregory the founder of the nonprofit The Huddle in Salem and pro tempore on the Salem City Council. "I saw us networking and sharing business cards and talking about what we are doing in our communities. That process will allow us to support one another and build a stronger unit."
The venue was a symbol of what Gregory had in mind. Suite 136 is owned by a Salem native who turned an empty space in downtown Salem into a popular gathering place and venue. Working with others in the community, he was able to breakdown walls of misunderstanding to give those looking for options to hold events to conduct them near their homes and neighborhoods.
"I opened this facility because there was a need in Salem and Salem County for a private event space," the owner told Front Runner New Jersey about his venue on 136 W. Broadway. "The township thought I was opening a party center, which means pretty much like a club or some type of place that people host parties, which is a part of private events, but we wanted to do professional neighborhood events.
"We were able to put this together right downtown, in the heart of Salem. It's been up for about a year now and people are connecting with the venue because they understand what it is now."
A greater understanding was one of the gathering's themes. As African American men, the attendees all shared their stories of challenges, overcoming obstacles and the desire to help the community – particularly young people.
Young said it was crucial Black men from all walks of life come together and support each other.
"It is really important, especially with the black community, to network," Young said. "It's about everybody using their talents and resources towards building a better community. This will work. There is always that stereotype of us not coming together. But what kept Black America together was black men coming together.
"That continues to be the case. When you think about Dr. Martin Luther King, he died talking about economics and the law in support of sanitation workers. Think about that. He lost his life while defending sanitation workers wanting to make sure they were treated fairly."
Washington said he attended the meeting because of his desire to stay active in the community and do what he can to bring people together.
"We need each other," Washington said. "These events are valuable because we are talking about collaboration and the empowerment of the black community. Now we have to move to how do we do that? I think that is a necessary conversation that we need to have. A lot of people who aren't here have tremendous programs and initiatives that they're doing that have tremendous impact in the communities that they live in.
"It's imperative that we find ways and platforms for us to get together so that we can strengthen the initiatives and enhance the participation so that we could have greater outcomes in our communities."
Gregory said there is a power in networking and coming together but he wants to see more. He said he hopes the gathering results in the men supporting each other and building a groundswell of support that will help each grow while bringing more people into the fold.
"There's a lot of people who need to hear these conversations," Gregory said. "I'm just excited for everybody who made it out here. We're networking, but I want to see something come out of this. We're going to continue doing this. We did a women's empowerment session before COVID-19 hit. Right now, we want to just get us all in the room and talk about what where each of us are."
Question: How Can Gatherings like the Salem Kings Dinner Cast a Positive Light on What's going in the Black Community? Leave your answer in the Discussion section below.
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