American Baptists march to end racism, commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.
By the Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer
Members of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) journeyed from across the United States to participate in the ACT [“Awaken,” “Confront,” “Transform”] Rally to End Racism in Washington, D.C., on April 4. The date marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader and Baptist minister the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“There was a conspicuous timeliness in this interfaith rally against racism,” observed the Rev. Dr. Elmo D. Familiaran, interim executive minister and senior regional pastor of American Baptist Churches of New Jersey (ABCNJ). “It was an unforgettable privilege to join other American Baptists from across the country and the wider faith community in speaking out against an ancient sin that has re-emerged with virulence in our day.”
The highlight of the rally for me, personally, was the early morning gathering at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the 1-mile silent march of hundreds of people to the National Mall, where the rally stage was erected. It was a privilege to walk alongside executive ministers the Rev. Paul Gibson of the Great Rivers Region, the Rev. Marie Onwubuariri of American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, and fellow American Baptists from several regions to reaffirm ABCUSA’s ongoing commitment to racial equality and justice.
“It was great to see the ABCUSA family from all over the country come together in our nation’s capital,” said the Rev. Marsha Scipio, ABCUSA’s associate general secretary for Missional Initiatives and Partnerships, who coordinated ABCUSA’s efforts in support of the rally. “This was not a march simply to memorialize the martyrdom of Dr. King but the beginning of a new movement to address racism. I am proud that our ABC family is saying ‘yes’ to the call.”
ABCUSA was represented at the rally on all levels — national, regional and local. ABCUSA’s tent on the Mall became a gathering place for American Baptists, as well as others who were curious about our denomination’s connection to Dr. King. Tent hosts were Office of the General Secretary’s (OGS) the Rev. Dr. Kevin Walden, associate general secretary of Congregational and Pastoral Effectiveness, and the Rev. Dr. Patricia Hernandez, associate general secretary of Women in Ministry.
“I deeply care about issues of racism and have been impacted by Martin Luther King’s ministry, so I was thankful to have the opportunity to participate in this event,” Hernandez shared.
Many traveled to Washington, D.C., on their own or as part of ecumenical bus groups. The Rev. Corey Fields, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Newark, Del., said that he felt led to attend after reading the general secretary’s February 2018 pastoral letter, “A Higher Way: American Baptists and Our Neighbors.”
Familiaran and the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Dudley, executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Metro New York, both of whom attended the rally, encouraged others to participate and to spread the word. Their efforts bore fruit, as evidenced by the fact that attendees represented at least 10 regions. Among them was NextGen Church, East Windsor, N.J., which sent 15 congregants.
“The Rally to End Racism reminded me that there is still much work to be done,” said the Rev. Eric Hoheisel, an ABCNJ associate regional pastor. “Every effort, to me, means recommitting to actively pursuing justice and not just passively declaring it.”
OGS invited our national partners to travel together by bus from the ABCUSA Mission Center in Valley Forge, Pa., to the rally. OGS, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) and International Ministries staff were united in mission and blessed by serving alongside each other.
It was “a great trip and experience to reflect on the life of MLK and to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of ending racism,” said the Rev. Rothangliani R. Chhangte, ABHMS’ senior associate for Strategic Initiatives and Relationships. “I enjoyed meeting new people there and also reconnecting with old ecumenical friends.”
Participants comment about importance of D.C. rally
“It was truly a blessing to participate in this historic event in remembrance of Dr. King, Rosa Parks and all the courageous civil rights heroes, as we continue to stand up for justice, freedom and dignity for people of all races.”
— Iris Cobb, administrative assistant to American Baptist Churches USA’s treasurer
It was “good to see so many young people at the rally, eager to continue to fight the cancer of racism.”
— The Rev. Sandra Dorsainvil, International Ministries’ (IM) director of Short-term Mission
“The ACT to End Racism rally on the National Mall was a huge success. It has created enormous energy and momentum within American Baptist Churches USA and all the member denominations of the National Council of Churches to carry on Dr. King’s work and commit ourselves to racial justice.”
— The Rev. Jim Winkler, general secretary and president of the National Council of Churches
“As a Christian Latina immigrant raised in the Bronx, it was important to be present at the interfaith rally to end racism. The fight to dismantle systemic racism in our nation is real, and it will take each one of us and all of us collectively to make a change.”
— Dr. Laura Miraz, associate executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Human Resources Management Services and principal for HRMATTERS, a human resources management consulting service for American Baptist national and regional partners
“As our great country — filled both with great people and with great problems — struggles to rise to the promise of its best values, Martin Luther King Jr. calls to us not from the grave but from the future, where the Beloved Community for which he died awaits us.”
— The Rev. Dr. Stanley Slade, IM global consultant for Theological Education
The Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer is general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.