As I exited the building, I could still feel the emotionally charged atmosphere. On Monday, January 16, Interfaith Worker Justice hosted a service to honor Martin Luther King’s commitment to worker justice as part of their Faith Advocates for Jobs Campaign in Washington, D.C. The audience often joined in singing with the extremely talented Shiloh Baptist Church Choir and prayed with leaders from various religious denominations. Two individuals shared testimonials about their personal experiences as unemployed Americans, and overall, it was both a beautiful and inspiring service.
One of the most memorable segments of the service was the sermon given by Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. I was surprised by how this small man, who began speaking in such a quiet, almost delicate voice, could give such a powerful sermon. Other persons who had previously heard Rev. Forbes speak gave me knowing smiles after I shared with them my awestruck reaction to his dynamic oration. He had the audience sitting on the edges of their seats for his entire message—one that could not be more timely.
I can’t speak for those who were alive during the 1963 March on Washington, but for those of us who have only heard about it, we think “Civil Rights,” “Integration,” “Equality,” “Racism." In 2012, it is pertinent to remember the full title of this event in 1963: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The original intent of the march was to go beyond racial equality, and to promote the basic right of people to have employment: that all may have a just wage; that all may have the opportunity to maintain a decent quality of life.
Civil rights are integrally connected with jobs. In order for people to achieve full dignity they need to have the means of earning a living and supporting their families. As Dr. King said on August 28, 1963, “Our emphasis must turn … to putting people to work … When they are placed in this position, they can then examine how to use their creative energies for the social good.”
When Rev. Forbes mentioned the parable of the lost sheep from the New Testament, I immediately thought of the Occupy movement and the increasing polarization between the "haves" and the "have-nots." None of us can afford to be mentally "lost.” In order to make Martin Luther King's vision a reality, we need 100% of Americans to be committed to promoting the common good. In this vein, let us not forget that freedom and responsibility are inseparable.
Rev. Forbes drew a tangible connection between the abstract vision that Dr. King had for our society and the concrete action that we can take to achieve this vision. We are God’s hands in putting our nation on the right track.
I will end by sharing a little food for thought from Rev. Forbes—What if each place of worship in the United States (e.g. church, mosque, synagogue, etc.) decided to take up a collection to hire someone to help with their community’s work, to pay a year’s worth of living wages for one person? Imagine the ripple effect that would occur. There would be one less unemployed individual, then 10 less, then 100 less, and if this happened across the nation…