We are all one

by | Jan 15, 2014 | Not In USe

By Evelyn Martin

8/28/2013 President Obama addressed the crowd and the nation. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Martin and Paul Rasmussen.

8/28/2013 President Obama addressed the crowd and the nation. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Martin and Paul Rasmussen.

Among the many blessings of my life, two stand out in particular. The first was when I participated in the August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The second was experiencing, this past August 22-28, the week-long 50th Anniversary of that March.

When I was a young teenager, I joined 250,000 people from around the country in the 1963 march led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I marched for one simple reason: I believed that all people are created equal; as such, I wanted to bear witness to my belief. After marching, I will forever remember Dr. King’s soaring, “I Have a Dream” speech. In the conclusion of his speech, Dr. King distilled everything of importance to, “When we allow freedom to ring … we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, We are free at last.’”

The full day’s events comprised the most formative moment of my youth. Specifically, I felt viscerally that whenever one of us is not free, all of us are straddled with the yoke of iniquity—whether we know it or not.  I also vicariously experienced what the oppressed, the freedom riders, and everyone else who had put their lives on the line, had gone through. In essence, I was genuinely awakened to the full truth of the civil rights movement.

When I saw how many people were streaming toward the Washington Mall, I was astonished and filled with thanksgiving for Dr. King’s legacy. While walking with others toward the Lincoln Memorial, I immediately felt that everyone present was my brother or sister as a body of one. The virtue of oneness is that it is meant to endure forever as a never-ending circle. This feeling of oneness was something that I didn’t fully appreciate in 1963. But my friend, Susan Shull, remembers her 1963 feeling in this beautiful way:  “It was that incredibly wonderful, warm, loving, friendly, helpful, caring crowd that I, in 1963, felt deeply in my bones that day 50 years ago. I have frequently said that I have never been in a crowd that was so very kind, before or since. And on my deathbed, I think that this will still be the truth.”

August 24
Action to Realize the Dream March and Rally was co-sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, and by Martin Luther King, III. The rally was intended for participants to stand together against the recent attack on voter rights, against “Stand Your Ground” laws and racial profiling, and to continue to raise awareness on unemployment, poverty, gun violence, immigration, gay rights and other critical issues affecting our nation.

Jim Winkler, the General Secretary of the Global Board of Church and Society of the UMC was a speaker at the Lincoln Memorial. He said, “We stand united against the myths of white supremacy and male superiority. Not if, but when we redirect the energy and resources of this nation to provide a livable wage for our people, we will know we are free. Not if, but when we protect the poor, respect the immigrant, care for our children, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we will know we are free. Let us redeem the dream, and we shall be free at last!”

August 28
We rallied at the Lincoln Memorial to hear a grand line-up of speakers during the “Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action.”  Speakers Included:

Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia): “For someone to grow up the way I grew up, in the cotton fields of Alabama to now serving in the U.S. Congress, it makes me want to tell [them], ‘Come and walk in my shoes.’” In 2013, Rep. Lewis was the only surviving speaker from that historic 1963 day. He called on the young people in the audience to “get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us. You cannot stand by, you cannot sit down. You’ve got to stand up, speak out and get in the way.”

The Rev. Bernice King, (daughter of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King), and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta: “The Prophet King spoke the vision. He made it plain and we must run with it in this generation, his prophetic vision and magnificent dream …”

Martin Luther King, III: “[My father] changed us forever … Dad challenged … our nation to be a better nation … He often talked about [how] sometimes we must take some positions that are not safe … but our conscience tells us they are right.”

Former President Jimmy Carter, who was endorsed by the King Family: “Every handshake from Dr. King, from Daddy King, every hug from Coretta got me a million Yankee votes.”

Former President Bill Clinton: “The marchers opened minds, they melted hearts and they moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone in his home in Arkansas.”

President Barack Obama spoke at exactly the same time, 3:00 p.m. EST and from the very same spot on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Dr. King did in 1963: He intoned that the marchers of 1963 had “… the spirit that they carried with them, like a torch, back to their cities and their neighborhoods. That steady flame of conscience and courage … And because they kept marching, America changed … doors of opportunity and education swung open … city councils changed and state legislatures changed and congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed. Because they marched, America became more free and more fair — not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability. America changed for you and for me.”

Fellow Marchers
Despite all of the formalities at the special events I attended, my most heartfelt experiences came from my interactions with fellow marchers. I had the joy of marching in 2013 with not only my husband, Paul Rasmussen, but also our younger friend, Charles Graham. We were true marching partners, providing for each other, without asking, exactly what the other needed or wanted at the moment (including jokes). This truly represented just what brotherhood and sisterhood are about.

These individuals, and many others, embody the hopes and dreams that I have always cherished. I feel certain that my sisters and brothers will not only continue to carry the torch, but will pass it on to younger generations.

The Future
I will forever thank Dr. King for transforming our country, for greatly inspiring me as one young dreamer in 1963, and for enabling me to further develop my sense of commitment, wonder, and appreciation in 2013. I will always be a marcher in the face of injustice. Yet I know that the future lies largely with the beliefs and activism of the younger generations.

Equality is America’s destiny—otherwise, it would not continue to hold the sought-after citizenship of so very many people from around the world. We thrive because of the myriad contributions that each culture has brought to our well of unity.  We know first-hand that the needs of everyone transcend all categorizations—nothing but the Circle of Oneness can fulfill our destiny.

I still believe that we shall overcome the tides of prejudice; and that, wherever these exist, Americans (Christians, Jews, Muslims, other faithful, agnostics, secular humanists, atheists, and all others) are called upon to assist in stanching the tides of inequality. Just as Dr. King told the world of his Dream, we now know that dreams can be powerful indeed.

In Conclusion
One of my former ministers, the Rev. Max Lafser (Unity Church), wrote at the end of his monograph, In Defense of Forgiveness, “Loving God … enable us to be a place where healing, forgiveness, and togetherness can be experienced on many levels. We ask this in the name of the one who taught equality by loving equally, Jesus the Christ.”

To which I can only add that Jesus—and other great teachers led by example, and welcomed “the other” to mercy and to grace. Above all else, they taught us that we are all one.

Resources for churches planning to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day are available at: www.gbod.org/planning-calendar/martin-luther-king-day .

Find out more about Evelyn Martin and formative experience in both historical event by contacting her at emarprass@gmail.com.

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