Members of American Baptist Churches USA journeyed from all over the country to participate in the ACT to End Racism Rally in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 2018. The date marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader and Baptist minister, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Organized by the National Council of Churches and its affiliated denominations, the day-long event focused on the continuing need for racial justice in our country.
“The highlight of the rally for me personally was the early morning gathering at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the one mile silent march of hundreds of people to the Mall where the Rally stage was erected (near the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History),” reflected ABCUSA’s General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer. “It was a privilege to walk alongside Executive Ministers Rev. Paul Gibson (Great Rivers Region) and Rev. Marie Onwubuariri (American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin), and fellow American Baptists from several regions to reaffirm ABCUSA’s ongoing commitment to racial equality and justice.”
Rev. Marsha Scipio, associate general secretary for Missional Initiatives and Partnerships, coordinated ABCUSA’s efforts in support of the Rally. She observed, “It was great to see the ABC family from all over the country come together in our nation’s Capital! 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.”
On the Mall, ABCUSA had a tent that became a gathering place for American Baptists, as well as others who were curious about our denomination’s connection to Dr. King. ABCUSA Office of the General Secretary (OGS) team members Rev. Dr. Kevin Walden (Associate General Secretary for Congregational and Pastoral Effectiveness) and Rev. Dr. Patricia Hernandez (Associate General Secretary for Women in Ministry) joined Scipio as tent hosts. Hernandez shared, “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.”
Many traveled to Washington, D.C. on their own or as part of ecumenical bus groups. One American Baptist pastor, Rev. Corey Fields (senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Newark, Del.), felt led to attend after reading the General Secretary’s February 2018 pastoral letter, “A Higher Way: American Baptists and Our Neighbors.” Rev. Dr. Cheryl Dudley, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro New York and Rev. Dr. Elmo Familiaran, interim executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey, encouraged their peers to share about the Rally, and their efforts bore fruit. Just one example: fifteen members of NextGen Church traveled down from East Windsor, N.J., to participate.
The Office of the General Secretary invited our national partners to travel together from the Mission Center to the Rally by bus. American Baptist Home Mission Societies, International Ministries, and Office of the General Secretary staff were united in mission and blessed by having the opportunity to serve alongside each other. American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ senior associate for Strategic Initiatives and Relationships, Rev. Rothangliani R. Chhangte, shared that it was “a great trip and experience to reflect back on the life of MLK and to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of ending racism. I enjoyed meeting new people there and also re-connecting with old ecumenical friends.” Iris Cobb, ABCUSA administrative assistant to the Treasurer, said, “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.” Rev. Sandra Dorsainvil, director of Short Term Mission for International Ministries, noted that it was “good to see so many young people at the rally, eager to continue to fight the cancer of racism.”
No one at the Rally imagined that the journey toward racial justice and equality has reached its conclusion. Rev. Dr. Stanley Slade, IM global consultant for Theological Education, observed, “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.”