People of different faiths from across the country gathered in D.C. for a rally Wednesday, April 4, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and to confront racism.
Hundreds gathered on the National Mall for the “Unite to End Racism” rally, organized by the National Council of Churches of Christ USA (NCC), to make the commitment to continue King’s nonviolent work for social justice.
Vincent McCall, a member of the Freedom Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Baltimore, attended the rally out of concern about laws that keep people from being empowered.
McCall, a father of four, said it’s important for him to make sure that doors are open for his children to succeed.
“We can’t have racism allowing us to not be able to tap into our gifts and skills,” he said.
McCall planned to take the information he learned at the rally back to Freedom Temple to effect change in his community.
The silent march began at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial near the Tidal Basin and continued along the Mall. On the main stage, faith leaders representing numerous faith traditions gave speeches during an interfaith service. Multigenerational performances ranged from youth groups to Grammy-winning gospel singer Yolanda Adams.
Featured speaker Vashti McKenzie, the first woman elected bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), told the crowd to take a stand against unjust systems that oppress people and call out inappropriate or racist jokes and comments.
McKenzie reminded those in attendance that remaining silent about race will not make racism go away, and that people must take a personal responsibility to eradicate it.
“Racism will end when people stop creating systems of racist tactics that create a divided class system supported by public policy and tax dollars,” she said, adding that public demonstration is important for social change.
McKenzie also spoke of the challenges of addressing racism for predominately White congregations that have Black members, describing “terror tactics of racism” used to make people feel ashamed, embarrassed or afraid to broach the topic.
She suggested faith communities create the spaces to have difficult conversations about the tough issues on race, then to actually have those conversations.