WILLINGBORO Willingboro is updating its presidential role models.
The township council voted Tuesday to rename the John F. Kennedy Center as the Barack Obama Center - and is to vote again on adding the word President in front of the center's new name.
The title is needed to remind future generations that Obama was the first black president of the United States, a resident suggested to township officials, council member Nathaniel Anderson said.
Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Jennings, whose idea it was to rename the center, recalled the excitement in Willingboro, a heavily African American town, when Obama ran for office and was elected.
"I think that people have a sense of pride about him. . . . We had so many new people register to vote, people who had never voted before, people who were disenfranchised," Jennings said Wednesday. "All of a sudden, we had maybe 8,000 people register to vote. We had lines . . . people wrapping around the buildings when the polls opened. It was a sense of history, everybody wanted to be a part of it."
Mayor Eddie Campbell was the lone "no" vote. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. Jennings herself ran late and missed the vote.
The name change comes amid renovations to the structure, which houses a senior center, the Willingboro parks and recreation department, a banquet hall, and an auditorium.
"The vote in 2008 . . . was change for us. It gave us, as African Americans, the opportunity to believe in those dreams that our forefathers sought. For us to be able to live in that historical moment and then have this president reelected, it means a lot," Anderson said.
The $4.9 million project to renovate and remodel parts of the center began two years ago, and is funded through a municipal bond. The banquet hall and auditorium are being remodeled in the hope that the center will be able to bring in more revenue for the township, Anderson said.
The plans grew to include renovations to the building facade, Anderson said, which made the name change viable in the council's eyes.
Assemblyman Troy Singleton said the renaming is "a fine tribute to our current president."
The street that the Barack Obama Center is on will remain John F. Kennedy Way.
Kennedy "is getting his respect and his proper due, as he should," Anderson said. - Clark Mindock