Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Martin Luther King's spirit is alive (and much needed) in Pasadena!

Jill speaking at the Metropolitan Baptist Church during the MLK celebration

I have often been disappointed by the public speeches given on Martin Luther King day, especially by public officials here in Pasadena. Public officials tend to be bland and often misrepresent Dr. King by equating his call of economic justice with the "prosperity gospel" ("work hard and you'll succeed and get rich").  In the past, the most impressive and prophetic word came from a sixteen-year-old high school student and from other young people who better understand King's message of compassion and concern for the "least of these" than most elected officials. https://laquaker.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-prophetic-word-from-sixteen-year-old.html) But his year I felt inspired and challenges by the services I attended on Sunday. Perhaps this is an unexpected and unintended consequence of electing a racist President who refers to Haiti and African countries as "shitholes."  If that doesn't wake us up, nothing will!
I went to All Saints Episcopal Church, the most progressive and "woke" church in our city, where I heard Rev. Traci Blackmon,  an activist preacher who was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and co-chaired the Municipal Governance and Court Reform workgroup. According to her bio, "her work has gained her many audiences inclusive of both the Vatican and the White House. An internationally sought speaker and certified diversity trainer," Rev. Blackmon did not mince words. “Prophetic resistance is only possible for those who can still dream … those who can imagine a better world while they are awake. Stay woke!" You can hear her powerful sermon at https://allsaints-pas.org/where-are-the-dreamers/
I was also impressed because All Saints "walks its talk." Its rector Mike Kinman is committed to racial justice, supports Black Lives Matter, and was the only pastor to speak out against the beating of Christopher Ballew by Pasadena police at a meeting that took place at City Council on Monday, Jan. 8. I am quite sure that if he were alive, Dr. King would be standing with those who are calling for police accountability in Pasadena. Here's what I wrote three years ago:
 In his sermon at Riverside Church (1968), King made himself very unpopular in government circles with this statement“I realized I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government.” Those in power don’t like to be reminded how state power is being abused by the police and the military. For this reason, I’d like to lift up local efforts to provide oversight for the police in Pasadena and other parts of the country. Here in Pasadena Kris Ockerhauser, Michelle White and others have started the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP).  which is advocating for an independent “Police Auditor” to investigate charges of police misconduct and report directly to the City Council. The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of black pastors (including my wife Jill, who is neither a pastor nor black!), has joined the ACLU, NAACP and others calling for the full disclosure of an independent report about the police killing of Kendrec McDade, an unarmed 19-year-old African American. (The Pasadena Police Union is fiercely fighting to prevent this report from being made public and is doing its utmost to influence religious leaders.) Jill will be speaking about the need for police oversight at the IMA Martin Luther King event on Sunday. King would be pleased: he was always on the side of those who want accountability for those who wield power!

Three years later, the police and the City Council continue to try to thwart efforts to hold police accountable for racial profiling and unwarranted violence against people of color. To read about what happened during the recent City Council meeting, see https://laquaker.blogspot.com/2018/01/an-open-letter-to-pasadena-city-council.html
In the afternoon, I attended the MLK service at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Altadena, sponsored by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA), the oldest association of black pastors in our city.
Ever since moving to Northwest Pasadena 18 years ago, Jill has been part of this association where she is loved and respected, and the feeling is mutual. I was thrilled that the IMA has endorsed the Poor People's Campaign and the Palm Sunday Peace Parade, and showed a video explaining the mission of this campaign, which drew a lot a applause from the audience.
Rep Chu with Pastor Bledsoe, President
of the IMA
The most impressive public official to speak was Congresswoman Judy Chu. She proudly announced that she was arrested for standing up for the Dreamers during a demonstration in the Capitol. She is passionately committed to social justice, especially for immigrants, and also wants to ensure the Voting rights Act is enforced. She truly embodies the spirit of Dr. King. 
I was also glad that the keynote, Pastor Cambell of the AME Church of Pasadena, spoke about the social justice message of MLK.  He also was one of only two pastors present at the City Council meeting where passionate public comments about the Ballew incident were aired. He has a concern about police conduct and accountability. So does the IMA, thanks be to God! They see that justice and Jesus go together. Without justice there can be no peace in the community. As
I was also delighted that Jill had a chance to speak to students on Saturday and introduced the scholarship recipients during the MLK event on Sunday. (Over the years, the IMA has given thousands of scholarships to African American students that have helped them to earn their college degrees.) Here is the text of what Jill shared with students. 


In December 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King announced the plan to bring together poor people from across the country for a new march on Washington. This march was to demand better jobs, better homes, better education—better lives than the ones they were living.
Just a year before his assassination, at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff retreat in May 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
“It is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights…[W]hen we see that there must be a radical redistribution of economic and political power,”
What does this mean? It means that those who have more share. It means that those who have larger homes share with those how none have. It means that those who make more money contribute a bit more to the common good—so we can have good schools, good roads without potholes and good health care for everyone.
I do Housing Justice Institutes around the US and I could list for you over 50 good policies that we could pass that would redistribute resources enabling us to live affordably. But these won’t get passed unless we also have political power.
What does it mean to redistribute political power? Example: the Golden Globes—famous movies stars used their stardom and fame to invite key leaders of movements that are seeking to bring justice to our world—to stand with them when they came to the Golden Globe ceremony. Suddenly those who have struggled to have a voice are now in the lime light—and now being interviewed by newspapers across the US.
The movie stars like MLK used their power to make change. How are you using your power to create change? Do you know you have power?
I want to tell you about my friend, David Hartsough…he deserves to win the Noble Peace Prize for his lifelong comment to waging peace with nonviolence. He was a friend of MLK and part of the struggle for civil rights 50 years ago.
My husband and I have had the honor of staying in his home in San Francisco. He gave us a copy of a book about his life. I want you to listen carefully as I read the story that opens his book:

It was 1960, and I was twenty years old. I was sitting on a stool at the lunch counter of the ironically named People’s Drug Store in Arlington, VA, along with ten African American classmates from Howard Univesity. The voice I heard was laced with venom, and the eyes of the speaker were filled with hate. He was threatening to thrust his knife—the blad just inches away from me—through my heart
What would you do? What kind of power do you have? What kind love would you have for the one who might pull a knife on you for standing with those who are being despised and unwelcome?
Here’s what David said he did in response. First, he was meditating on the teachings of Jesus, who said: “Love your enemies… Do good to those who hate you.”
So David turned around and did his best to smile.
Looking him in the eyes, I said to him: “Friend, do what you believe is right, and I will still try to love you.” Both his jaw and his hand dropped. Miraculously, he turned away and walked out of the store.

What does it take to be prepared for this kind of a response in the face of violence? Incredible practice and discipline. This is the kind of Movement that MKL and his leaders taught and this is what we need today.
I want to close with a another story and a charge to us all to be involved in the new emerging poor people’s campaign today—50 years later.
But first the story. At the MLK event several years ago at the Jackie Robinson Park, I heard Nicole Brown, 11 years old read her award winning essay. It was all about MLKs vison for housing and ending homelessness and Nicole’s’ broken heart when she saw a homeless person.
I approached Nicole after the event and asked if she would be willing to share her essay at the City Council. We were trying to get a housing commission for the city and her essay would help us.
I asked her parents, and they said they would support anything that Nicole wanted. So her whole family showed up at the City Hall to support her. When it was time to read her essay she went just over the 3 minutes allowed, but they turned off the red light and allowed to finish her beautiful speech. The Council members listened intently because they rarely have an 11 year old speak. They were taking photos of her from the chambers and posting them.
When she finished, she said, I hear one of the reasons that you don’t have a housing commission is because it is too expensive. I won $250 for my essay contest and I would like to give it to you.
They were speechless as was everyone in the Council Chambers that day. Finally John Kennedy, one of our elected council member and vice mayor stood up and spoke to everyone, “why does it take an 11 year old to teach us what we all should be doing?”
What kind of political power is this? Nicole shared what she had. Her time, her passion, her essay, her winnings and her heart.
What will we share that we have? And will be disciplined and prepared to share it in a nonviolent way like David Hartsough who choose to love in the face of violence when he took a stand for what was unpopular but right?
Now the charge: The Revival of Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.
We need you to step up and join our efforts.
Thank you for allowing me to share with you today about Martin Luther King, David Hartsough and Nicole Brown. May we go forth and be encourage and follow in the footsteps of these shining example to help lead our path. 

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