Black History Month Spotlight: Ms. Hall's NJEA Martin Luther King, Jr. Award
Updated: Aug 18
Milan Naropanth ('23) & Jessica Romero Silver ('23)
Due to her outstanding activism and commitment to community service on a local and national level, Jessica and Milan interviewed Ms. Hall, an assistant librarian at Lawrence High School. Recently, she was awarded the NJEA Martin Luther King, Jr. Award and two interviewers wanted to find out more about her experience outside of school.
Milan: How was your experience receiving the NJEA MLK, Jr. Award? How did you do it, and how was the process receiving the actual award? How did you feel about receiving the award?
Ms. Hall: I was humbled by it, and it was a surprise. I received the award for my work with my organization Rays of Hope, a youth-led community service organization that primarily does activism. When I was told I was getting the award, I was surprised that my peers had nominated me and that they knew so much about what I had been doing outside of school. Sometimes I feel weird accepting this award in my name because the work that we do is done by the youth in my organization. I guide them and support them, but they really do all the work. I accepted it on the behalf of Rays of Hope and all the youth in the organization. I was surprised, ecstatic, and happy to be receiving an award with Martin Luther King Jr’s name on it!
Milan: Can you tell us more about Rays of Hope?
Ms. Hall: Rays of Hope is a nonprofit youth community organization located in Ocean County, New Jersey. However we serve all counties, wherever there is a need. We have been to Lawrence, even Ewing, where we helped out with HomeFront. We also helped out the school system in Newark. The members of Rays of Hope range in ages from 8 to 18 and they are primarily children of color. When I started the organization I lived in Jackson, New Jersey, and my kids did not go to school with a lot of other kids that looked like them. I began taking my children to places where they could serve the community and invited a couple friends to join. It started out as a group of moms who wanted to take their children out to serve in the community, and then it just grew into this organization. We found out that there was a need for young people to get community service hours, so in 2014, our small group of moms decided to make this an organization and we became a nonprofit organization. The kids took initiative in planning something for us to do each month, such as visiting the elderly and cleaning up the environment. Then it started to change into activism. The kids began writing letters to the governor about lunch shaming and speaking at rallies. Now, we have a leadership development program where the children come and learn how to become initiators in their communities. Our main goal is to teach the kids how to be passionate about community service and passionate about being leaders in the community.
Jessica: I know you said the organization is located in Ocean County, but is there any way for students at LHS to get involved?
Ms. Hall: Absolutely, I would love to start a chapter here at LHS or in the surrounding areas. All it takes is young people who are interested and some help from a few adults. This organization is something that could be taken national, it just needs a push. There are many people from our program who, after graduating, are continuing with community service. The youth that are a part of this organization have a desire to lead: we are molding these individuals into leaders.
Milan: I think your understanding about the importance of community service is similar to mine. This summer I volunteered at HomeFront. I started doing it for community service hours, but then it turned into something larger than myself. I realized that I really enjoyed it.
Ms. Hall: You feel great! That's why I love working with young people who love to do it. They really have a passion to do it and I don't have to beg them to participate. Our youth are responsible for everything we do. The summer before we start we choose leaders in the organization who will sit down and plan out the year. They decide what they want to do. One year a member named Jayla decided that we should get prom dresses for teens in the Lakewood community. We were able to get 300 dresses for the prom season. We voted on the idea and made it a part of our calendar. Members are responsible for creating our calendar year, called project planning. That's something that most adults do at their jobs. Right now we are working on a black history project and I check in to see how it is going, but our three leaders deal with all the teams and report in. It is really an awesome thing. We have been asked by community leaders to attend and orchestrate meetings with superintendents, and even collaborate with the police department in Ocean County. The prosecution office called me to have Rays of Hope lead a meeting discussing police brutality. In terms of activism, Rays of Hope has been to Washington and have even met with Congressmen to discuss immigration laws. Every year, Rays of Hope visits Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). During each of those trips, we incorporate community service. Our kids have been around the globe and have been able to meet individuals that are making a real difference in their community.
Milan: I really liked how it started as community service and turned it to something so big!
Ms. Hall: It really did, it just grew and it was all student-led.
Milan: How did you start working at LHS?
Ms. Hall: I was an event planner at my local church and I had a background in Hotel Restaurant Management. Then, I got a bachelors of science in Hotel Restaurant Management. I ended up getting into event planning, but that form of work was heavily time consuming. I have a child who is on the autism spectrum, so there was a need for me to get a job that was more flexible. A friend told me about an opening for this assistant librarian job so I applied. As an assistant, I did not need a degree so I decided to take the job. It has been about eight years since I’ve started working here and I love it. I enjoy working with the children and all the teachers. It gives me the flexibility to take care of my child, too. I also enjoy working with the students in. the Library Club because I can pull them into my organization’s events. The kids are interested in Rays of Hope, so it’s nice when they get involved.
Jessica: There are definitely students from this school and other clubs who would love to help out at some of your events!
This interview really shed some light on all the amazing work that Ms. Hall has done behind her prestigious NJEA Martin Luther King, Jr. award. If you are interested in learning more about Rays of Hope, please visit this link. Their Instagram page can be found here, and their Facebook page can be found here. Thank you so much Ms. Hall!