Linking arms, singing, and lifting their collective voices in prayer and protest, thousands of faith leaders came together in the nation’s capital for a Ministers March for Justice aimed at racial healing.
Monday’s gathering drew some 2,000 attendees from across the country who represented a multi-faith assembly: Christian ministers, rabbis, imams, Sikhs, and Buddhists and were among the multiracial, cross-generational contingent.
College students, families with children, dignitaries, activists and community members from the region and around the country attended the demonstration, which was spearheaded by the National Action Network (NAN), the civil rights group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Co-chairs — such as Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — and various pastors nationwide helped with organizing efforts.
“This nation is in moral trouble,” said Sharpton, who was joined by fellow marchers Rev. Martin Luther King, III, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., gospel singer Marvin Sapp, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, and Gwen Carr—the mother of Eric Garner, who was choked to death during an encounter with New York police in 2014. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but principalities, wickedness and the powers of darkness in high places.”
The march kicked off at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall with a prayer vigil and pre-ceremony, before proceeding about a mile to the Department of Justice. The route passed both the White House and President Donald Trump’s hotel, where marchers chanted “No Justice, No Peace!” and other rallying cries.
Not coincidentally, the Minister’s March took place on the 54th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his seminal ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. August 28 also marked the date in which 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in 1955 while visiting relatives in Mississippi; the Chicago teen had been accused of flirting with a White woman.
The promise of fulfilling King’s dream of racial harmony and Till’s legacy seemed to underscore the spirit of the march for many.
“It’s a proud feeling to be among people of all races and creeds who want peace and justice,” said the Rev. Marissa Farrow, a college student and Youth Pastor at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York. “I’ve never been part of something of this magnitude.”
Farrow, 28, addressed the crowd at the pre-ceremony on the Mall and referenced the late Coretta Scott King’s quote: “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”
“While Dr. King’s dream seems to be on hold, I believe we will not be destroyed,” said Farrow, who acknowledged feeling determined, yet nervous about marching. “Thinking about what happened in Charlottesville, you do have some feelings of fear.”
Earlier this month, so-called alt right groups comprised of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, KKK members, skinheads and others descended upon the University of Virginia’s campus in Charlottesville, wielding torches and hurling slurs such as “Jews will not replace us!” The White men who marched numbered in the hundreds.
The next day, another Unite the Right rally in downtown Charlottesville turned violent, then deadly after a car plowed through a group of counter-protesters.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old Charlottesville activist was killed, while another 19 people were injured. Two state police officers, who’d been on detail during the unrest, perished when their helicopter crashed outside town.
NAN officials said the march was intended to address “the lack of leadership in the current White House,” and “the silence of others,” about the racial and social issues percolating in the U.S. At one point, Sharpton led a moment of silence for Heyer. Another march (un-affiliated with the Minister’s March) commenced earlier this week. Organizers said the 10-day march from Charlottesville to New York is about “confronting white supremacy wherever it is found,” according to the website.
Rev. Lottie Sneed grew up in the Deep South in the 1950s, witnessing daily racial injustices that were heaped upon Black men, women and children with impunity.
“As a child, you’re not always sure how to take a stand, although there were many children who did,” said the North Carolina native. “They were very brave, as were all of the warriors who fought for Civil Rights.”
So the minister and community advocate in Baltimore drove with a friend to Washington, D.C., joining throngs who came by bus, train, flights and on foot. “I want to be in the number of like-minded people, people of faith standing for what is right and just.”
She was grateful for the experience.
“This was a wonderful day, full of promise and recollection of the power of God to change seemingly impossible things,” said Rev. Sneed, who is affiliated with Douglas Memorial Community Church. “We marched as a united, diverse, intergenerational front. I am encouraged. Tomorrow will be a new day. We need to get to work.”