I sat in a Detroit church pew on Sunday, livestreaming the reading of a speech to commemorate one that was given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King 50 years ago, looking at two banners that flanked the altar: Justice and Peace. Rev. Rich Peacock, a retired United Methodist minister, Co-chair of Peace Action of Michigan and a long-time mentor, echoed my thoughts in his reverberating voice: “There can be no peace without justice.” Seeking shanti begins with promoting dharma, and that too through nonviolent action, as espoused by two great 20th century activists that have been an inspiration to me, Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi.
On April 4, 1967, Rev. Dr Martin Luther King delivered a speech that was considered extremely polarizing as he raised concerns about the lack of civil rights against the backdrop of the Vietnam War – that money was being spent on war instead of addressing the poverty right here at home. Nearly 170 news outlets denounced him – the New York Times called it wasteful and self-defeating, countless others – for whom the Nobel Prize winner had been a darling less than three years before. The speech also alienated not only many civil rights leaders, but also antagonized President Lyndon B. Johnson, under whose watch both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed.
The speech was written by one of his long-time friends and scholar, Dr. Vincent Harding, to address what King saw as the three major evils of the time. increasing militarism, escalating poverty and structural racism; as he called them, “the triplets of evil.” At the memorial reading in Detroit, the guest of honor was Harding’s widow, Aljosie Aldrich Harding. She spoke briefly about those days, and had a handwritten draft of the speech with her. After all, this was long before the days personal computing,hand held devices and livestreaming on social media. Meeting her during the reception after the reception, one simply had to look into her eyes and see her stance, to appreciate the heft of lived experience and the resilience she embodies, and to realize that she is an elder to be honored and respected.
Aljosie Harding is a member of the National Council of Elders (NCOE), that came together in late 2009, when her husband Vincent Harding, James Lawson, and his brother Phil Lawson – all civil rights leaders – engaged a handful of veterans from 20th century social justice movements – movements for civil rights, social justice, environmental, LGBT, and peace. Their vision: that they, along with the other leaders of these national movements, could provide support to leaders and activists of this century. These seasoned activists and leaders of the Civil Rights, Women’s, Peace, Environmental, LGBTQ, Immigrant Justice, labor rights and other movements of the last 60 years provided support to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2012. Over the last few years the NCOE have continued to write, mentor young people and serve as a resource, starting with the Greensboro Declaration in support of the Occupy movement, the water crises in Detroit and Flint, and now, commemorating words that are valid even today, both here in Detroit and in Riverside Church, NYC on April 4. Remembering the circumstances, reiterating these words and recognizing the importance of this monumental speech can only help to reinvigorate the movement for peace and justice, through the course of nonviolent action. What will you do today?
Beliefnet post about the event: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/idolchatter/2017/03/12312.html
Clip of 2016 speech: https://vimeo.com/198735673
FB Livestream: https://www.facebook.com/pg/beliefnet/videos/?ref=page_internal (FB account required)