Lafayette Square, the public park located just steps away from the White House, used throughout history as a graveyard, slave market, encampment for soldiers and the site for political protests, became ground zero on Thursday, Sept. 6 as leaders and members of the Black Church heeded the call to engage in social justice activism — a fundamental aspect of their Christian faith.
Participants young and old from across the nation, led by bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, gathered for the rally, a “Call for Conscience/Forward to Action,” in a spirited celebration of prayer, praise and unbridled demands aimed at President Trump who they say must change his ways.
The event continues a series of efforts recently initiated by the Black Church aimed at sparking a massive get out the vote campaign — one which leaders hope will lead to record voter turnout in November resulting in the ousting of Republicans in Congress who they say have rubber-stamped Trump’s plan to reverse many of the hard-fought gains secured during the civil rights movement.
“We are here today because our cause is right, because we are sending a message and because we want to let this country know we ain’t going [to] let nobody turn us around,” said Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram, prelate of the 1st Episcopal District who opened the rally with prayer and a statement of purpose.
“We’ve gone through so much, we’ve prayed too long and we’ve walked too far,” he said harkening back to the long history of activism that led many of the founders of the various denominations in the Black Church to establish their own places of worship.
One day earlier, a symposium held at Reid Temple AME Church focused on key policy issues affecting Black Americans as a means of preparing attendees for the protest and scheduled visits on Thursday afternoon with their Congressional representatives.
Ingram, who represents churches in Bermuda and parts of the Northeast traveled in a caravan of buses to the District. He, along with more than a dozen other speakers, addressed an estimated 1,000 people during the rally.
Messages came from honored veterans of the Civil Rights Movement including: Rainbow/PUSH President/CEO the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Bishop Reginald Jackson, president of the Bishops’ Council of the AME Church; and the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in New York and former general secretary of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. Other speakers included: Bishop E. Anne Henning-Byfield of the 16th Episcopal AME District; the Rev. Stephen Green, pastor of Heard AME Church in Roselle, N.J.; Pastor Jamal-Harrison Bryant of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore; radio talk show host and civil rights leader Barbara Arnwine; and poet and Morgan State University Professor Sheri Booker.
Bishop Jackson told the crowd that while Trump recently met with a small group of Black clergy, he still had not heard from the “heart of Black America.”
“President Trump has heard from the professional prophets but now he’s going to hear from God’s prophets,” he said.
Rev. Jackson said the ballot box remains the best means to level the playing field and send a message to the president, comparing the plight facing Blacks today to that once faced by the children of Israel.
Dr. Jonathan Weaver, pastor of Greater Mount Nebo AME Church, Bowie, described the gathering as “keeping with the spirit and the legacy of the founder of the AME Church, Richard Allen, who spoke out against injustice and racism 220 years ago.”
Bryant noted that a call had come from the White House, specifically Jared Kushner who indicated his desire to set up meeting in the near future. But Bishop Jackson, charged with convening the two-day event, said the Black Church had its sights set on “achieving real progress, not being participants in photo-ops.”