Thousands of people, including a cadre of faith leaders from the Reconciled Church Movement (RCM) who represent various ethnic backgrounds, joined the Rev. Al Sharpton and members of his nonprofit National Action Network (NAN) on Monday in the District on the 54th anniversary of Dr. M.L. King Jr.’s historic March on Washington.
Their collective mission, a spokesperson said: to discuss the Church’s role in healing our nation’s racial divide and to speak out against the president’s response to recent events in Charlottesville.
Sharpton said the turnout of about 3,000 people who participated in NAN’s Ministers March for Justice marked one of the largest-ever interfaith gatherings in protest of racism in America.
“[Just] as [Martin Luther King Jr.] marched 54 years ago, we are still marching for voting rights, health care, criminal justice reform and economic justice,” said Sharpton, who walked the two-mile stretch from the MLK Memorial to the Justice Department, the son of Dr. King, Martin Luther King III, close to his side.
Prior to the march, several members of the RCM held a press conference at the National Press Club in Northwest focusing their comments on the theme “repentance for personal and corporate apathy in the face of racism.”
The theme of the event was repentance for personal and corporate apathy in the face of racism.
“Racism is America’s original sin,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, RCM co-convener. “Throughout the history of the Church, too little has been done to overcome this sin. Although we believe there have been courageous efforts, by people like Christian abolitionists, civil rights leaders and social activists, the American Church has never reached the critical level of engagement and unified action to end the influence and reign of terror of racism in our nation.”
Jackson unveiled a three-fold plan that encourages other faith leaders and individuals to participate in a 40-day fast beginning Aug. 29 to pray for the cessation of racially motivated violence and creation of jobs to return to economically distressed urban and rural areas, sign and support the Justice Declaration of Prison Fellowship to focus on restoring the opportunities of returning citizens and initiate local Prayer and Reconciliation Rallies in the nation’s top 20 cities based on the Reconciled Church Model.
Evangelist Alveda King, pastoral associate and director of Civil Rights for the Unborn, the African American Outreach for Priests for Life and niece of Dr. King, reflected on the six principles of non-violence, which she learned from her uncle, father, and grandfather, and encouraged attendees to “find strength and agape love to turn the other cheek as Jesus taught us.”
“We are one race and one blood,” she said. “We continue to see ourselves as separate races or think that God made us into different races but we are one blood and one human race in America and all over the world. If you cut any of us, that blood’s going to be red, and we all need the blood of Jesus.”
Marching to End Racism
As the march proceeded shortly after high noon on Monday, participants stopped briefly for prayer along Pennsylvania Avenue outside the Trump International Hotel in downtown D.C. before moving on.
“Shut, shut, shut it down! Shut, shut, shut it down!” some chanted as they pointed toward the hotel owned by Trump.
The Reverend Johnnie Green, senior pastor of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church in Harlem, aimed his remarks at Trump and other GOP lawmakers.
“We’re here today, because many of those who sit in the seat of power — the president, the Republican Congress and the Republican Senate — they’ve once again written us a bad check,” he said. “The check written to millions of Americans, Black, brown, Jewish, Muslim and many others, has come back stamped with insufficient funds.”
“When you try to take away health care for 26 million Americans, co-sign the killings of people of color in the name of law and order, leave our Black bodies lying in the streets for more than four hours and refuse to hear our cries of ‘I can’t breathe’ while choking us to death, when you tell us that there are good people among nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis who commit terrorist acts here on American soil, you’re trying to issue us another bad check,” Green proclaimed.
The Rev. Marshall Hatch, co-chair for the Chicago-based Leaders Network, blasted the president on several fronts including Trump’s attempts to halt an investigation of “foreign meddling in our election.”
He went on to say that neither Trump’s recent pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio nor his “threatening of nuclear war and rumor of war” via Tweeted messages pointed toward normalcy.
“Somebody has to have the courage to stand up and say, ‘this emperor has no clothes,’” Hatch added.
Jeffrey David Cox, president of the 700,000-member American Federation of Government Employees located in northwest D.C., told the crowd there’s no room in this country for hatred.
“It’s time to take those statues [symbols of the Confederacy and white supremacy] down,” Cox said. “But leave the base so we [can] tell our children and our grandchildren what an evil wicked thing this country did.
One civil rights movement icon and a close colleague of Dr. King said he will never stop fighting for justice and the equal treatment of all people under the law.
“Somebody said, ‘Charles, they comin’ after you.’ Let them come because you got to die anyhow,” said Charles Steele Jr., CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference headquartered in Atlanta. “Let me die fighting for freedom and justice and equality for all God’s children. I own a funeral home, so let my funeral home bury me.”
One of the youngest in attendance, 13-year-old Elijah Coles-Brown of Richmond, captivated listeners prior to his introduction of yet another icon from the civil rights movement, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.
“I’m so glad that Rev. Al has given me the opportunity to continue to carry the torch for justice. To continue to carry the torch for freedom. To continue to carry the torch for equality,” Elijah said as part of his memorized remarks.
As the march and speeches drew to an end, Sharpton asked the crowd to join arms and sing, “We Shall Overcome.”
“We must understand the history of activists who got arrested, or died, to fight for civil rights,” he said. “Those people faced death. They didn’t know if they’d be coming back home that night. They needed something that would energize and fortify their spirit — like a song of rejuvenation. They locked arms because they knew they may never hold hands again.”
Genese Muse, a minister with Tabernacle Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia, said she first heard about the march while listening to Sharpton’s radio program, “Keepin’ it Real” on Sirius XM radio.
“The speeches confirmed how much work I must do in regard to voter registration like partnering with the NAACP branch back home,” she said.
McKingly Williams, 40, of Laurel, Maryland, said Elijah’s powerful voice impressed him.
“Being able to see a boy just 13 with the heart of a lion come up, speak, embrace his culture and introduce someone as powerful as Rev. Jackson was a monumental moment for me,” said Williams, a member of Bible Way Temple Church in Northwest.
D. Kevin McNeir contributed to this story.