ACT NOW: Unite to End Racism

On April 3rd through 5th members of First Baptist Church traveled to Washington DC for the “ACT NOW: Unite to End Racism” rally and day of action on the National Mall.

The week began on the evening of Tuesday April 3rd at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in NW DC.  Close to a thousand people from across the country gathered to share a hauntingly beautiful service of Greek Chanting held in an amazing cathedral covered in incredible mosaics.  This was followed by an inspiring Ecumenical Gathering with dignitaries from dozens of denominations throughout the country and around the world.  This gathering reminded us of the work the Ecumenical Church has been doing to end racism and inspired us all to redouble our efforts to “finish the work” of ending racism in our land.

April 4th started bright and early at 6:30 am as we met with hundreds of Christians from across the country at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and were lead in a silent prayer walk from the memorial to the National Mall.  Being in silence at the foot of King’s statue on the anniversary of his assassination with hundreds and hundreds of people from across the country who had all come together to try and continue his work was one of the more powerful experiences of the week for me.

We arrived at the Mall for an interfaith service that was truly interfaith.  Members of several different religions and dozens of different Christian denominations shared a time together of prayer, worship, teaching and commitment to working together to end racism in our land, in our lifetime.

After the interfaith service the rally began in earnest, as busloads of people from across the nation continued to show up to join in the event.  There was music, sermons, motivational talks, dance, singing, rap, and liturgies.  The entire experience was geared towards helping us commit to the work of ending racism.  Some of the highlights included:

  • An inspiring performance by Gospel singer Yolanda Adams.
  • A motivational talk by actor, director and activist Danny Glover.
  • A humorous but poignant talk by ice cream aficionados and businessmen Ben & Jerry.
  • A very instructive talk given by Black Lives Matter activist and pod cast host, DeRay Mckesson.
  • A powerful message from author and speaker Jim Wallace.
  • A powerful benediction by the Bishop of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District of the AME Zion Church, Bishop W. Darin Moore (while holding his young grandchild and committing to her that the world she grows up to inherit will be one without racism).

The following day was day of action and advocacy throughout the halls of congress.  We met in the morning at Historic Ebenezer United Methodist Church where we were given a brief overview and training on the following issues:

  • Voting Rights
  • Criminal Justice
  • Immigration
  • Gun Violence
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Environmental Justice.
  • Economic Justice

It was a lot to learn and hold onto in a short amount of time, but it was fascinating and helpful information.  It was very instructive to hear how much race plays a part in each of these other issues.  Whether we were talking about education or healthcare or the environment, the negative effect of these issues disproportionately affect people of color.

We broke into smaller groups and visited the offices of our representatives.  I visited Congressmen Johnson and Pocan, as well as Senator Baldwin’s office.  Others went to the offices of other representatives from around the state.  A smaller group of national leaders went to Speaker Ryan’s office.

In all my visits the staff we met with were cordial, responsive and interested in what we were doing there.  And in each visit, I brought a greeting from FBC.  And, I made it clear that we are a community of people that care about these issues.  That when I say I want something to be done about the achievement gap in Wisconsin, I am not just speaking for myself but for the hundreds of people (and voters) in my church community that sent me there with that message.

National and international newspapers took notice of our being there as we were on the cover of The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail (Ontario), The Providence Journal and the Chicago Tribune.

Here’s how the rest of our group folks experienced the trip:

Everyone got together at the rally and they were actually peaceful, it was disappointing that the gospel choir didn’t have more songs. How many people came was shocking to me, even surprising.”

“Overall the experience inspired me to be more active politically in the fight for equal rights and justice.  I was very impressed with the passion and commitment of the speakers and the knowledge they had about legislation that would adversely affect the poor and people of color.  I was especially pleased that most of the people who spoke to us as experts in their legislative fields were people of color…  I had very personal conversation with several white people on the bus and am very humbled and encouraged by their experiences with “walking” the “talk” within their families.  It was uplifting that 4 youth from Wisconsin made the commitment to the advocacy day and were pleased with their experiences.”

For me, the image of so many clergy, men and women, wearing their stolls and their collars was extremely powerful… that we live in a country where we can stand facing Capitol Hill, with our backs to the White House and publicly declare the injustice that exists in our society, while simultaneously rejecting the policies and the man who currently occupies that house, was immensely gratifying… not because the end of the work is done… not remotely, but that there exists in America even today so many people interested in King’s vision is compelling to behold… that his statue stands today with arms crossed, defiantly holding the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, staring at Thomas Jefferson’s memorial, as if to say… “Really? After those words were written over 200 hundred years ago, are we really still doing this?”

“The rally was really well done; the speakers were interesting and a had a lot to say”

Over all it was an inspiring, challenging, and exhausting week.  Like was said, we come back more determined then ever to do our part in the fight to end racism in our land, in our lifetime.