With racism on the rise and economic disparity widening, it’s time to stand up and be counted–at the ballot box and in this year’s U.S. Census, the CEO of the National Urban League told a Martin Luther King Day service in Morristown.
“The dream of Martin Luther King is under attack in this nation,” said Marc Morial, issuing a call to action at the Calvary Baptist Church, where participants marked the 50th anniversary of the town’s Martin Luther King Observance Committee.
Every eligible young person should register to vote, and all citizens “must vote with all vigor and fury” to counter the damage done by “No. 45,” said Morial, refusing to utter President Trump’s name.
Morial also reminded the largely African American audience that federal programs and the apportionment of congressional seats are tied to census figures.
“We must be counted,” said the former New Orleans mayor, who has led the National Urban League, the country’s largest civil rights organization, since 2003.
Martin Luther King was more than a dreamer who gave great speeches; the slain Civil Rights leader was a nonviolent “disrupter” whose actions were controversial with blacks and whites, Morial said during an impassioned half-hour talk.
Had King lived, he would have turned 91 this month. It will take the “wisdom of the elders,” coupled with the energy of the young, to achieve King’s vision of a just and loving society, Morial said.
“The dream cannot be celebrated only in words…only in song. The dream has to be celebrated with action,” said Morial, who also delivered a keynote talk at Calvary in 2018.
“We must be the medicine to eradicate and eliminate and reduce this disease called racism,” which manifests itself via poverty, mass incarcerations, voter suppression, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and surging hate crimes in our largest cities, he said on Monday.
MLK Day 2020 at Calvary Baptist Church. Video playlist by Bill Lescohier for MorristownGreen.com. Click top right icon for clips:
The growing gap between rich and poor is especially troubling because we live in an era of unprecedented wealth, he said. According to Morial:
- Many Americans struggle to live on incomes that have averaged only modest increases since 2000 — while average rents have doubled.
- As millions of citizens lost their jobs and homes in the wake of the Great Recession, billionaires’ wealth increased by about 12 percent.
- The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa.
His prescription includes promoting minorities in the workplace, contributing to scholarships, and attending services like the one on Monday.
“We cannot be silent. We cannot simply be observant. We have to speak loudly and forcefully for the vision we have for this nation,” said Morial, a lawyer with degrees from Georgetown and the University of Pennsylvania.
As he spoke, thousands in Richmond, VA, were “celebrating an instrumentality of violence–a man-made instrument called a gun.”
Although Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency as a precaution, the rally against gun control laws ended peacefully.
Calvary’s service ended with spectators clasping hands and swaying to the Community Choir’s booming rendition of We Shall Overcome, the anthem of the Civil Rights movement.
Local officials in the audience included Cathy Wilson and Michael Soriano, the mayors of Morris Township and Parsippany, respectively; Morristown Council Vice President Toshiba Foster and Councilman David Silva, and Morristown Administrator Jillian Barrick.
Earlier, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) spoke at the annual Morris Interfaith Breakfast, at the Hyatt Regency Morristown.
Citing short speeches by local students, Morial expressed optimism for the future.
That hope was shared by 86-year-old Felicia Jamison, who co-founded the Observance Committee a half century ago to honor Martin Luther King’s memory and press for a national holiday.
“Our democracy is tested now. But it will be strong,” Jamison said. President Trump “is doing a good job of trying to destroy it. But we shall overcome. We have to.”