An Independent Episcopal Day School for Ages 3 Through 12th Grade in Burlington, New Jersey

Voices-4

Today's MLK Day panel discussion, organized and hosted by Doane Academy, is featured in the Burlington County Times. The following article was written by BCT reporter, Kelly Kultys:

BURLINGTON CITY — A message about reaching out, understanding and hope echoed in the halls of Doane Academy on Monday during a discussion on how to overcome divisions and work together going forward.

Right now is a "time of uncertainty," according to Doane Headmaster George Sanderson.

"The point is that today we're trying to, together, make some sense of where we live," Sanderson told the audience at the private school on Riverbank.

Sanderson welcomed New Jersey Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park; the Rev. Aubrey Fenton, of the Abundant Life Fellowship Church in Delanco, and Audrey Harvin, managing editor of the Burlington County Times, to the school to help tackle some of the current challenges.

The first step in working to overcome division is talking to people from different walks of life, according to the three panelists.

Fenton said when he served as a Burlington County freeholder, he devoted much of his first year to learning from people who lived in different areas of the county. Most of his life had been spent living with and learning from people in the riverfront communities, from Burlington to Palmyra. One of his first challenges was speaking to those from Springfield, Chesterfield and North Hanover, many of whom had different concerns and problems than those Fenton had known.

"I had an opportunity to see the county from a different perspective," he said.

Allen said that as an elected official, one of her jobs is to make sure she does not "count out" parts of her constituency. For example, she spent three nights living on the streets to learn what those who are homeless face, she said.

Allen said it's important to "get in other people's shoes" to see why they live a certain way or have a different point of view.

One of the challenges many people face is polarization that stops one group from communicating with the other, according to Sanderson.

"You have to expand your life," Harvin said. "We all like our comfort zones. That's not the real world."

For Allen, she said watching MSNBC and Fox News gives her a view into how people in both the Republican and Democratic parties think.

When asked what Congress needs to do to restore people's trust, Allen said, "They need to elect more women," to a round of applause.

Not only would it be more representative of the population, but in general terms women often think of ways to compromise and make things happen, she said.

Doane Academy student Sam Spencer, 18, asked the panelists if there was still room for moderates in politics when everyone seems to be in their corners.

"It's very hard for moderate candidates to win a primary," Fenton noted, after saying that most people he comes into contact with fall into the moderate category.

He used that as a jumping-off point to encourage the more than 60 people in attendance to be more involved in politics, not just every four years during a general election.

"I think that's the worst thing to do," he said.

Fenton said people's votes and decisions matter more than they realize. He and Allen said they would like to see a reduction in or even an elimination of negative campaigning.

The panelists emphasized getting involved in and paying attention to local, county and state politics, as well as federal issues, because change often starts at the lower levels.

Allen cited the work of Burlington City High School students and their "25 Saves Lives" campaign. She credited the students for feeling the loss of one of their classmates and using that to start a movement, gain her attention, and work with her to create legislation, which might prevent this problem in the future.

The Rev. Paul Briggs, Doane's chaplain, asked the panelists if, since it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there was a prophetic voice out there, like his, that people could turn to.

While Fenton and Harvin said there probably will not be someone like King during their lifetime, there might still be people who can have that impact.

"I think they're all around us," Harvin said, pointing out how teachers and parents could be those voices.

She said an influential high school teacher helped her get on the right track.

"That made all the difference in my life," Harvin said.

After the discussion, Spencer said it was encouraging to see people attend the event and participate in the discussion and to work to do better.

"Honestly, I took away a bit of a message of hope," he said. "It's good to know that there are people out there that still care."

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