Martin Luther King & Economic Justice

As we celebrate the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ICWJ anticipates the 2016 Faith Labor Breakfast, where we will be inspired and motivated by a national leader in the racial and economic justice movement. Reverend Michael Livingston of the Riverside Church in Manhattan will deliver the keynote address: “The Communities We Want: Striving for Racial and Economic Justice.” Livingston says of his inspiration for ministry:

It was the courageous witness of the church in the Civil Rights Movement that awakened my understanding of the gospel as being about the prophetic transformation of society.

The area of labor and economics is one in which our society still falls short of the dreams of Dr. King and other civil rights leaders. Livingston will speak on the intersection of the new Civil Rights movement and the new Labor movement, which must unite for change for
The Communities We Want.” We hope you’ll join us at the Breakfast to hear Livingston’s timely message. Get your tickets today

— A Holiday Reflection on MLK Day & Economic Justice by Rabbi Renee Bauer, ICWJ Director

It is Jewish tradition to sing a series of psalms on joyous days of celebration. Today is such a day, so I invoke the words of Psalm 118 to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy to our nation:

Open the gates of justice for me, that I may enter them and give thanks unto God […] I give thanks to you for you have answered me and have been my deliverance. The stone rejected by the builders has become the chief cornerstone. This is God’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight. This is the day God has made. Let us celebrate it and express our joy. (Ps. 118 excerpts)

To honor King is to not only rejoice and thank God, but also to take action. Reverend King said to the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, in one of the final speeches of his life:

Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger? […] We are saying, “Now is the time.” Get the word across to everybody in power in this town that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. (Mar. 18, 1968)

We give thanks that some of our calls for justice and equality have been answered. An African-American family lives in the White House. We see this and other signs that some of those who were rejected by the builders of this country are becoming the cornerstone of our democracy.

Now is the time. Despite the advances of the civil rights movement, despite having inaugurated the USA’s first African American President on the day after the MLK holiday seven years ago, racial inequality plagues our nation, our state, and our city. For this reason we hear the cries of Black Lives Matter and the cries of the Fight for $15.

These movements are urging us forward. We have not come far enough when full-time workers are caught in cycles of poverty and cannot provide food for their children, do not have access to health care, and struggle to keep a roof above their head. We have not come far enough when African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated or killed at the hand of officers. We must get the word to those in power that now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, the promise that all people – whether Black or White, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, whether they recently crossed a border or were born in this country, whether they collect our trash or teach our children – all deserve dignity and access to a decent livelihood. Our nation today still has not lived up to the Dream of justice that King imagined, but current movements for justice provide hope that we will.

Let us pray for the strength to harness the groundswell of change that is sweeping across our country and work to open the gates of justice wider so that all people can enter and truly give thanks to God. Amen.

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