Rev. Sharon D. Johnson
Speaks At Township MLK Celebration
Saturday, January 19, 2019
A Reflection on the Life of Minnie Bell Veal As I Knew Her
“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
Today I have been asked to say a few words about the lady for whom this building is named. An African American's woman's life that embraced, employed and embodied the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. She had a heart full of Grace, a soul generated by love and a willingness to serve.
I am not a historian, nor am I a biographer. Therefore, my words will be a reflection on the life of Minnie Bell Veal as I knew her.
It was in 1969 when I came to meet Ms. Minnie Bell Veal when I joined the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. She was the Superintendent of the church's Sunday School and worked for the recreation department and if my memory is correct she also worked in retail. Everyone called her Ms. Veal. In those day young people and rarely older people called a an elder or a person in authority by his or her first name. It was always Ms Sue or Mother Mary, or the person's last name with a title before it. It was a time when we were taught that respect, manners and wisdom were valuable attributes. It was also a time where community and church interlocked and interwoven and everyone knew everybody. The Black church has always been a central part of the African American Community and continues to play major role in the community, advocating for social justice, education and civil rights issues.
Ms. Veal comes from a southern background that during this period of time understood the importance and experienced the church and community working together. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia in the midst of segregation and separation. She was educated in Atlanta and attended Spellman College of Atlanta Georgia. Spellman is a historically black liberal arts college established in 1881 dedicated to the intellectual, ethical, creative, leadership and development of African American female students. Bringing the spirit of our southern background and her Spellman education with her to the north propelled her into a world of humanitarianism, church and civic involvement
She migrated to the north like so many African Americans did during the 30' 40's and 50's. The great migration similar to today's immigration. However the Black migration was about African Americans moving within the nation, leaving the segregated and economic poverty of the south to seek a better life of economic and educational opportunity in the north. Many who left the south from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi came to reside in Potter's Crossing now know as North Edison. Here they developed a thriving community of entrepreneurs, business owners and future leaders
Martin Luther King Jr. whose legacy we honor and celebrate on this day exemplified the church and community working together in its efforts to bring civil rights and justice to all people It is important to remember that Dr. Martin Luther King was a Baptist Preacher and Pastor. He was guided and sustained by his faith which allow him to perform sometimes dangerous acts of courageous leadership. He was a religious leader who was committed to faith tradition and community. Often time you could tell the difference in his speeches if they were sermon or speeches. He led from his pulpit and he embodied the words of scripture , incorporated hymns into his words.
Ms Minnie Bell Veal a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr. was also one who was committed to faith and community. She worked with the church , community, and governmental officials in order to better the life of many children who crossed her path.
Minnie Bell Veal came to Potters Crossing after living for a while with her husband Frank in New York. Keeping her church and community connections she was a member of the Concord Baptist Church of Brooklyn under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Dr Gardner C. Taylor. He was a close mentor and friend of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a community and civil rights activist. Certainly, she must have been exposed and influenced by the works of Dr. Taylor. For we are all a product of our life experiences.
Ms. Veal was a go getter, never letting the grass grow under her feet. One time I worked with her to take the children from the center and Sunday School to numerous field trips. We didn't have financial resources nor grants to apply for. But somehow Minnie Bell found a way to convince the powers to be in the township to sponsor a bus. Not a school bus but a 54 passenger charter bus. Exposing young people to world outside of their community was a passion of hers. She had no children of her own, however she dedicated her life with encouraging and developing the life of other people's children sparing no expense. So with her efforts we were able to take children to the United Nations, Rockefeller Center, the Museum of
Natural History, and the American Bible Society.
It was wonderful working with a woman who had such a positive outlook on life and such a heart in encouraging and developing young people. She definitely touch my life in a way that she became a role model. I, because of her zeal have a desire and love for the "beloved community.
She looked at the content of one's character and the potential that each had. She mentored young people to seek higher goals and to pursue education beyond high school. Many young people who would have never thought about college was introduce to the idea of going. Not only did she encourage them to go, she also worked with others to help finance them through scholarships. There was no financial aid, or government loans in those days. It was community activism through women's clubs and community organizations that assisted in these endeavors. She was a member of the National Council of Negro Women, the NAACP, the North Edison Civic Improvement Club and many others.
Her efforts produced many college graduates who went on to pursue careers in education, law, ministry, medicine, athletics, music, and foreign service. Some of you sitting here today are products of her efforts or you were one of her mentees. Full of energy and vitality and regardless of her older age Ms Veal could be seen marching in township parades with the
Spartans, a drum and bugle Corp group of Potter's Crossing. You could never tell her age by the vitality and energy that she had.
Education and learning were her passions. As she encouraged other to learn, she also continued her education.. She completed a program at Rutgers University in recreation which enabled her to work in recreation for the township. When I first met her, the community center was located in the basement of one of the apartments of North Edison Gardens now known as Robert E. Holmes apartments. It is my understanding that there was another building that housed the community center before it burned down. But there in the basement of the North Edison Gardens, Ms. Veal continued to develop young people with after school tutoring and games. Once a week on a Thursday evening I would leave work and go to the complex and lead the Good News Club for children 5 1o 12 years of age.
Commitment to her faith extended beyond the local church. She introduced me to Church Women United, Middlesex District which is now Middlesex Central Baptist Association. Again as I worked with her in the Sunday School, our work also involved the community. We would take the children to various Sunday School events sponsored by the Middlesex Central Baptist Association under the leadership of Rev. Willie J. Sanders. On one occasion the Drum and Bugle Corp was invited to perform.
Committed to her beloved community, as a community activist she knew all of the officials in the township, the various religious leaders from the different churches and synagogues. She was always striving to make her "beloved" community better. The last township meeting Ms, Veal and I attended together was the meeting to decide on building the shopping center. She and I represented the community and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. The shopping center was desperately needed for the residents of the Senior Housing Complex and others in the neighborhood. Minnie Veal like Martin Luther King Jr. was a woman of faith who was committed to her faith traditions and her community.
When Ms. Veal returned to her native Georgia to be closer to her brother, I kept in contact with her almost on a daily basis. The last time I spoke with her was on the day she died Little did I know that that day would be her last. But even in Georgia she remained concerned about her beloved community and all of the children she had worked with.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, " Everybody can be great, because anyone can serve" Truly Minnie Bell Veal is great because she was willing to serve her church and her community.
I encourage all to continue the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ms. Minnie Bell Veal to be willing to serve your community. I leave you with this quote: " Life's most urgent and persistent question- What are you doing for others?"
Minnie B. Veal Community Center
Saturday, January 19, 2019
Martin Luther King Observance
Minnie Bell Veal Recreation Center