By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Four busloads of church members from African American and Anglo churches gathered this past fall to visit the newly unveiled Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The groups met at Solid Rock Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., to visit the memorial and celebrate afterwards in a joint worship service for both races.
“It was a great opportunity, and I’m glad we went forward with it,” shared organizer James Dixon, Jr., pastor of El Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., and Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware missionary for African-American church development. “It put a taste or flavor in the hearts of people to let them know how many of the races can make an impact on all cultures.”
Dixon, a leader in the BCM/D’s A New Day in Race Relations initiative to build better race relations, added. “I really think that we, as a convention, set a powerful example for our two states and the world that we are very serious in going forward to have a new day in race relations. Somebody needs to be a pioneer in this area.”
Somebody, like Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Deacon George Davis from First Rock had the privilege of attending the 1963 March on Washington when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his historical speech, “I Have A Dream.”
“We remember so vividly the impact that that speech had on the American life,” he said. “We can see the results of his efforts—of what he has done in making it better, not only for the black Americans but also for even white America—all kinds of people who have come into this country. He has made a tremendous difference, and the privileges are now so great. So now we owe him a whole lot, and it’s just a privilege to be able to come down to see this great monument built to his name. We’re just so grateful for the work he has done.”
John Hevey, a pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Sykesville, Md., has been a part of the New Day initiative since it started.
“This has been a journey for me, one that has been a corporate one, which involves all of us, but it’s also been a journey that is very personal too as I try to throw off the shackles of the past that have chained us folks as Anglos every bit as much as those who are African Americans,” he said.
Hevey said the visit was an important event in that journey for him because he was “with a man [Martin Luther King, Jr.] that many of my compatriots vilified when he was out there. They didn’t understand him, but now we have the lens of history to go on and because of that, we can see him in the truth. We can see that he spoke the truth. We can see that he meant what he said and that he was about equality for all human beings.”
Hevey added, “I’m glad that my children are entering a society that is much different than the one I entered, that they will be a part of this dream that he saw. The New Day initiative has been great for me, as it has been for many, many others. And I invite others to join in on it. It’s a chance to reconcile with each other and go beyond that, to move forward into our society.”
Harold Lafayette Dugger, Jr., a high school student from Capitol Heights Baptist Church, in Capitol Heights, Md., called visiting the Memorial “a very good experience because for my generation, it shows where we come from as a people.”
He added, “We still have a long way to go—some gaps there, we can fill them up…. I hope that I can make an influence so when I grow up, I want to go down in history, too,” he said.
Ernest Brown, also from Capitol Heights, said, “I thought, in essence, that it was a type of reunion where it would bring people closer together despite the difference in cultures, ethnicity and background and so forth, because when you look at it, we all are one. We’re connected in this great big world that we live in regardless of who we are and where we come from.”
Rachel Henning, a member of New Hope Community Church in Baltimore, Md., said, “I am here to celebrate what Martin Luther King, Jr. has done to bring all of us together to be as one and celebrate freedom together.” Fellow member Jolie Memmel, 11, added, “I’m just so happy to be here today to celebrate us as one big family.”
In the celebration at First Rock, BCM/D Executive Director David Lee pointed to the fulfillment of a Christian’s mission in Acts 1:8, to be Christ’s witnesses, even in the hard places. “There may be some difficult journeys for some of us to go there, but we must go there anyway,” he said. Pointing to Jesus’ prayer in John 17, Lee looked to Jesus’ vision for His disciples to be “one.”
“I know we are not there yet, but we want to journey there; that’s where we want to go,” he said.
Bucas Sterling, senior pastor of Kettering Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, Md., expressed excitement about being at the Memorial with fellow BCM/D church leaders. “We have all the races coming together to enjoy the fellowship together… but I am even more excited about where we are going.”
In his keynote address, Sterling stressed the importance of redeeming “now” to right the wrongs of the past. “Sometimes we look so far ahead that we forget about the ‘now.’” He urged his listeners to visit churches of others’ races “now.”
Angel Rosary from First Rock, who also attended Dr. King’s 1963 speech, agreed. “I hope the church will go back to what [King] was trying to instill—to keep the unity going, the way he had us going so long ago. Because we need to get back together to our grass roots. This is all just wonderful, and we should keep this going.”
To learn more or to view video testimonies from participants as well as Sterling’s full sermon, visit online at www.newdayinracerelations.com or scan the posted QR code.