As the world prepares to honor the life of the “Drum Major for Peace” on his birthday, Jan. 15, hundreds gathered at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Northwest for an annual service bringing together leaders and members of various faiths from across the D.C. area with Dr. M.L. King, Jr., as their focus point.
The program, co-sponsored by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, continued an event which first began in 1983, one year after the founding of the King D.C. Support Group by its founding president, Dr. Helen V. Tate, along with Dr. Clark Lobenstine, on Jan. 16, 1972. And while partnerships within the group were later formed, the goal remained the same: to gather the community to experience Dr. King’s collective messages of live, equality, peace and justice from interfaith perspectives.
This year, with the theme “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: His Voice, His Teachings, His Love for Humanity,” the service featured: Barbara Harrison, News 4 Anchor, master of ceremonies; Pastor Michelle C. Thomas, Holy & Whole Life Changing Ministries, International; Soloist Wyomme Pariss, Hip Hop Artist Yusha Assad, the World Children’s Choir, Calvin Woodland as the voice of Dr. King, Mikaeel Martinez Jaka, ADAMS Center Boy Scout; and Rabbi Gerry Serotta, Executive Director, InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.
Other participants representing Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism led a multi-faith call to prayer with a host of interfaith expressions shared in commemoration of King’s teachings.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president/CEO, National Newspaper Publishers Association, formerly Vice President of the National Council of Churches and the youngest Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP, served as the keynote speaker. Here are just a few of his remarks.
“We must bring up a new generation of Fannie Lou Hamers and Dr. Kings so that they are prepared to take up the baton and push forward. As we mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, many will ask how far we’ve come toward achieving true racial equality, justice and the opening of the door for all humanity. We tend to use inclusiveness in too narrow terms.”
“This service this evening shares an important aspect of the Civil Rights Movement in that it has made room for youth. We must plant the seeds of urgency for freedom in them when they’re young. That’s what Dr. King emphasized.”
“King would not have gone along with the current administration – a president who makes jokes about nuclear war. King would not have said what Trump has said, claiming to have the biggest missile or the biggest bombs – he would have wanted to know who had the biggest heart in the search for justice for all.”
“D.C. is a great city but our focus on gentrification doesn’t factor in those whom King cared most about: the least of these, the homeless, the hopeless.”
“Our problem today is not persuading Pharaoh to let our people go. Instead we should be able letting Pharaoh go. Letting partisan bickering which has almost become hatred go. A country that doesn’t care for its own, all of its own, will not care for the rest of the world.”
“We cannot let Dr. King down. We cannot forget his love for all of humanity. God bless the living legacy of Dr. King.”
Chuck Hicks, chair of the DC Black History Celebration and a longtime member of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and resident in Southwest commented on the service following its conclusion.
“This service has grown in scope and attendance because of the belief that by worshiping together with those from different faiths and ethnic groups, we can truly make this both a better city and world,” said Hicks, 72. “Sure, we have our differences but I, along with many others, believe we can come together and work in unity. That’s what Dr. King believed too.”
“I was particularly pleased we had so many different faiths come out to help celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. I think he would have been particularly pleased to see we involved so many young people from across the city. And Dr. Chavis’s speech was very timely in light of the things our country is facing today. His final words could not have summarized the work before us any better and it really served as a needed source of encouragement to us all.”