I traditionally abhor marching, the Martin Luther King -type march. It’s my opinion that there are too many marches and too little action.
The march planned this weekend, then, in Washington D.C., commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech doesn’t move me. Sorry. It just doesn’t. That thousands of dollars have been raised for this march, to be used to pay for porta-potties and parking privileges, and probably for noted people who will speak is troubling to me as well. All that money being spent for one or two days…when communities of black, brown and poor people are floundering …does not make moral sense to me.
But the work being done by a group devoted to empowering people and informing them about the social justice issues of today does excite me. The Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc., (SDPC) named in honor of a civil rights icon, the late Rev. Dr. Samuel Dewitt Proctor, deserves attention.
SDPC has invited 50 students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to participate in teach-ins. They will learn about the social justice issued faced and addressed by Dr. King in 1963, but they will also be taught about the social justice issues facing black, brown, poor and marginalized people today: issues including mass incarceration and the lack of jobs for “the least of these.”
This group, through an initiative called the “To Be Free At Last Movement,” has created spaces for individuals and institutions to come together and forge partnerships that go across racial, ethnic, professional and denominational lines. That seems wonderfully Christian to me, reflecting an understanding of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. That seems, as well, wonderfully indicative of an understanding of Dr. King’s desire to build a “beloved community,” where capitalism, militarism and imperialism are pushed aside as groups within the boundaries of the United States seek to make the way for justice to be meted out to those who need it most, but for whom it seems most elusive.
During this weekend, and in the days leading up to August 28, these students will learn what’s before them, and will plan a rally honoring A. Philip Randolph that will be held at Union Station in our nation’s capital. On Sunday, the torch of leadership will be passed to them by veteran civil rights and labor leaders including John Thomas and C.T. Vivian. They will also participate in a Town Hall Meeting with Judge Greg Mathis during the weekend’s events.
With as much as there is at stake for “the least of these,” it is comforting to feel like someone gets it and is being intentional about training people to carry on what was begun back in the days of slavery. A high note was reached by Dr. King when he gave his famous speech, but many people have said that his dream has become a nightmare. African-Americans are still struggling, as far too many African-American men are incarcerated, and young African-American men still cannot get employment. There is still an overlying spirit of racism that suggests that black people are bad people, unworthy of freedom and too apt to complain when they have access to anything they want.
In theory, perhaps, but in actuality, that is not the case, and that’s why the work of social justice as concerns “the least of these” is so important. It is important that young people be trained and strengthened even as they enter the fray. Obtaining social justice for and by “the least of these” is some of the most difficult work ever. Those who fight for it fight against power, which, we all know and as Frederick Douglass said, “concedes nothing without a struggle.” These young people are being sent into the lion’s den, so to speak, a lion’s den that people like Dr. King and Rev. Vivian and Rep. Lewis knew and know well. They are being equipped to carry on the work – with all of its attendant opposition – of people like the late Fannie Lou Hamer and Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. They are being equipped to struggle not only for black, brown and poor people, but people in the LGBT community as well. Justice is a right of all American citizens. Dr. King said he looked forward to the day when all of America’s children, black and white, Christian and Jew …would be able to walk and work together. It hasn’t happened yet, and in the name of globalization, the spread of people needing justice has grown. Justice matters.
That an organization is willing to take on the behemoth task of equipping young people to carry on the work that Dr. King talked about is exciting. It is worth tapping into.
The march? Not so much.
A candid observation …