This Is Life & Death: MLK Day March & Worship

My heart raced a bit with anticipation as I approached the steps. Some may say my heart was racing because it was a brutally cold morning. I knew though, as cold as it was, I was excited! 

Okay, I’ll be honest - I was thrilled. Why? It was because I was going to be participating in something I have never done before on this day - I was going to take part, in solidarity, in a march from Englewood's town seat to a service at Ebenezer Baptist Church commemorating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on what would have been his 89th birthday - January 15, 2018.

I was brought into remembrance MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” that I had read that morning as a bit of a personal tradition, where he spoke of being “cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states,” as the blistering winter cold ran through my body it began to subside a bit with the warming of my heart as I approached the Kingdom-mosaic, wrapped in a tapestry of solidarity and unity that had started gathering outside Englewood Town Hall. 

Poster boards with various statements and signs had been handed out and clergy, lay people, residents, of various local churches communities had gathered and listened as a 9th District US Congressman, Bill Pascrell and Rev. Preston Thompson, of Ebenezer Baptist Church each shared a few words, then Rev. Sanetta Ponton prayed us into our march through Englewood to Ebenezer Baptist Church.

As we began our police escorted march westward on Palisades Avenue, songs such as “We Shall Overcome” could be heard being sung by the marchers and I could not help but reminisce about various aspects of the Civil Rights movement that I had learned over the years through various mediums and trips I had taken, but particularly my trip to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. 

I remember driving back to the State House, in Montgomery (where the march from Selma had concluded) on Route 80 wondering what it must have been like on that 54-mile march that took 4 days starting on March 21, 1965. What were the marchers thinking? How did they feel? I remember wondering what resolve and determination it took to do such a march. Could I have done that? Would I have done that? I don’t know, especially after the brutality of bloodbath that was experienced on "Bloody Sunday." Yet, I was participating in a March this morning in Englewood that was barely 1 mile long and complaining about the cold. 

We arrived at Ebenezer Baptist Church and had a time of fellowship where we had the opportunity to meet, greet, and get to know people we did not know from various congregations and then we all filed into the sanctuary for worship. We sang hymns and read Scripture and then Rev. Sanetta Ponton got up to preach about the “Beloved Community” that Martin Luther King Jr. so often spoke about from the text 1 Corinthians 12:25-26. 

The Holy Spirit-filled fire and power behind the impassioned message of Rev. Sanetta couldn’t be exaggerated enough as her exhortations, pleas, encouragements and righteous anger pierced my heart and my ears as it did for so many in worshiping together. As she preached I was reminded of aspects of Dr. King’s Letter from prison....

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” – Rev Ponton spoke of how we need to suffer with those that are suffering and that whatever pains and struggles our brothers and sister go through we should be affected by it also.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Rev. Ponton shared, “When the church is silent, PEOPLE DIE!” 

“We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation,” she stated that educating ourselves with the injustices that have existed and still do exist is good but not enough. We need to be co-laborers in the struggle. 

“I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will,” Sanetta laid down the gauntlet and said that she hoped that the MLK service in 2019, will not be a commemorative service but a TESTIMONY SERVICE of all that we have done in our efforts to not be silent but to speak against injustice, hate, racism, in fighting injustice and hurting with our brothers and sisters. 

As a day of marching and worshipping had come to a close, I began to think back on the day and all that I had heard, learned and experienced and asked myself, “What next? Where do I go from here?” and began thinking about how I could get more involved in the struggle, the fight, of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that I can keep educating myself but as Rev. Sanetta said it, is not enough. I must play my part in some active way. This is life and death. 

One of the greatest privileges in my life is being a part of Metro - a community that strives to play an active part in the fight against injustice and systematic racism. This is a vital part of the DNA of the Metro ethos. But apart from Metro, social justice is at the very heart of the DNA of Christ. This is why the fight that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought against injustice still needs to be fought today.  

As individuals this must be of “life and death” importance to us in our faith walk. As community that strives towards our vision of “TRANSFORMATION” we must reflect on what the “one” can do as a step toward fulfilling the dream that Dr. King had and the beloved community of unity that Christ so passionately prayed on. 

So, Metro - what will our testimony in 2018 be for what we did in 2017? I pray that whatever the testimony is, it is a glorious one where we have all played vital parts in our community’s efforts towards justice, advocacy and compassion.

Submitted by Dan Kim