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Faith community has strong visible presence at Martin Luther King Day commemoration, rally and march in Spokane

Participation of the faith community in Spokane’s 2008 Martin Luther King, Jr., commemoration service, rally and march was more visible than in the past.

Spokane’s Catholic bishop and Jewish rabbi joined Protestant clergy as speakers at the commemoration Sunday, Jan. 20.

MLK sign
St. Joseph Catholic-La Comunidad Catholica de San Jose marches with a banner.

Members of Salem Lutheran, Emmanuel Lutheran, St. Paul’s Lutheran, St. Joseph’s Catholic, Holy Trinity Episcopal, West Central Christian Center, Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ and the Baha’i faith joined school and community groups, carrying banners for the rally and march Jan. 21. 

Some marched from churches to the rally honoring the minister who was assassinated 40 years ago for advocating civil rights.

Despite single-digit temperatures, about 2,000 joined the 2008 march 26 years after

St Jospeh
Stop hatred, ignorance, war, poverty

Spokane’s first march to honor King in 1982. That year, 49 people made a butcher-paper sign and marched from the County Jail to the Federal Courthouse in Spokane.

“We were nervous and did not know how Spokane would respond,” said Ivan Bush, who has been on the organizing committee for many years.

Business people came out of their stores

W Central Christian Center
West Central Christian Ministries joins in

and acknowledged the first marchers.  Some passing in cars honked their horns in agreement, and others in cars stopped and joined the group.

“Through the years,” said Ivan, “one hope was that the community would acknowledge Dr. King by naming a street after him, as have 400 other U.S. communities. 

“It’s time, Spokane!” he said to those gathered.

At the commemoration service, the Rev.

Holy Trinity
Lutheran Bishop Martin Wells approaches Episcopal Bishop Jim Waggoner walking with Holy Trinity Episcopal's banner carrier.

Ezra Kinlow of the host church, Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, said King’s “I Have a Dream” speech speaks of three dimensions of love—love of God, love of self to realize God resides within, and love of others as neighbors and as “the least of these” Jesus spoke of.

“In this century, more doors of opportunity are open, but many areas of the dream have not been touched,” he said.  “We need more dream makers and more dream-reality makers.”

He called for those gathered to live the dream year round both by inclusion from the white community and by blacks dropping the chips off their shoulders and forgiving.

At the celebration, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said she felt it unacceptable when people told her she was “lucky” as the daughter of a Muskogee Indian “of darker hue” and an English-, Irish-, German-descent mother “of a lighter hue,” because she could “pass” for white.

“It’s not okay to ‘pass’ as anything, she said.

“We honor King for his intellect, truthfulness and courage, calling us to uphold fundamental ideas of life, liberty, justice and equality,” she concluded.

Center promotes King’s dream

Ben Luety, president of the board of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center, who grew up Lutheran in Missoula, feels honored to be on the board of an organization working to improve the quality of life for children, youth and families through providing multicultural education, a preschool, teen leadership and parent education to help people accomplish King’s dream.

In introducing Catholic Bishop William Skylstad and Rabbi Jack Isakson of Temple Beth Shalom, the Rev. Happy Watkins, co-organizer of the 2008 events with Ivan, said he has long sought to fulfill King’s dream by bringing together Protestants, Catholics and Jews to speak.

bishop rabbi
Choir director Sharon Jones, left, leads choir. Bishop William Skylstad, Rabbi Jack Isakson and Nancy Stowell were among the speakers.

Bishop urges right relationships

Bishop Skylstad said the prophet Isaiah was also being a dreamer—envisioning dry land blossoming, the crooked being made straight, leveling mountains, turning spears into pruning hooks and swords into plowshares, the wolf being the guest of the lamb and the calf being with the young lion.

Recounting that God had to call Samuel three times before Samuel heard, the bishop said “God calls and calls and calls us here and now” to live the vision of the kingdom Jesus gave, the kingdom of justice, peace, joy and right ordering of relationships.

“We have much right ordering to continue to do,” he challenged, calling for response to God’s call to “realize we are all brothers and sisters in God.”

Rabbi committed to civil rights

Rabbi Jack Isakson takes off his kippah to make a point of how it felt to be in a Christian pulpit celebrating Dr. King.

Rabbi Jack asked participants to imagine what it was like for him to stand in the pulpit of Ezra Kinlow “under my kippah” (Jewish skull cap). 

At the end of World War II an American tank entered the concentration camp where his father had been held.  The first American to emerge from the tank was a black man.

“Today, I am a rabbi speaking in a church celebrating a man of the same color as the man who liberated my father, a man who emancipated descendants of slaves.

“Can you imagine how I feel?  It’s amazing!” he said, acknowledging that there’s more to do.

The week’s Torah readings from Exodus 14 and 15 told of the Hebrews, who escaped slavery across the Red Sea and sang a song of praise on the safe side.

 Rabbi Jack said the Jewish community was part of the civil rights movement:  In 1964, three Jewish young adults were murdered in Mississippi when they were registering black voters; rabbis joined the march to Selma, and members of Temple Beth Shalom worked on civil rights in the 1960s.

“King was an ally in the fight against anti-Semitism and for a peaceful, secure Israel,” he added.

Speaker promotes families

Speaking on the theme, “The Silence Is Deafening:  Stand Up and Speak Out!” the keynote

Constance Rice
Constance Rice

speaker, Constance Rice, called for Spokane to stand up and speak out for youth.  She shared her perspective as director of the Casey Family Programs in Seattle, which provides, improves and seeks to prevent the need for foster care.  Forty percent of the 500,000 children in foster care are African American, she said.

Beyond empathy generated toward black people by such movies as “The Great Debaters” or celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Constance said there is need to realize African Americans are consumers, who spend $400 billion a year.

She expressed her concerns about consumption choices of some African-American youth, stereotypes of African-American women in movies, susceptibility of African Americans to home loan scams, high rates of diabetes and heart disease because of diet, lack of parental involvement in schools, low reading and writing skills and high drop-out rates for blacks, having TV on all the time, and the high percent of African Americans in prison.

Those are among the many factors behind the need for foster care, said Constance, who both praised foster parents for providing love and safety for children, and called for strengthening African-American families.

With the generation that started the civil rights movement now being seniors, she called for more in younger generations to join in working for rights.

Constance urges early childhood education, developing memorization and vocabulary skills, teaching a love of scriptures, exposing children to good role models, promoting perseverance and prayer, and respecting all religions and people.

She also urges people to be vigilant toward elected officials, to value and use the right to vote won for them, so they can decide who will be in charge of education, health and human services.

Children ask questions

Students ask who will stand up and speak out for them.

As part of the commemoration, eight children did a choral reading of King’s letter from the Birmingham jail, followed by a chorus reminding of the limited access to employment, education, health care and justice for minority youth, asking each time:  “Who will stand up for us?  Who will speak out for us?”

Spokane School Superintendent Nancy Stowell said at both the service and the rally she was humbled and touched by their questions:  “The responsibility falls to us.  I have tears in my eyes because you should not have to ask, but should know that we will stand up and speak out.”

At the pre-march rally, she added that the 30,000 children in the school system include African American, Native American, Latino, Asian and white children, plus children living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, speaking 40 languages and bearing hard-to-pronounce names. 

“The goal is for all to keep up with their grade levels and graduate,” Nancy said.  “We will eliminate the achievement gap only when we overcome systemic racism. We need to value the differences and worth each child brings to the classroom.  We educators must be keepers of the children’s dreams, standing up for each child who enters school doors.”

Indians benefit from King

Opening the pre-march rally, Pat Moses, a member of the Spokane Tribe from Wellpinit and a graduate of Eastern Washington University, said that “through the ages, men like King have brought people a long way, helping them to see that life is precious. 

“Because of him, many of us are better off,” Pat said. “King led people to a better life, a better living and better living standards.  Our people have lived in conditions and circumstances that are not good.  We can make this country and town better and can change hearts.”

He said the Plateau people in the area before the missionaries came had their own religion and understanding of the spirit being in everything.  While some have adapted, many still hold the traditional ways.

In the 1880s, there was war over the land where the Spokane people came each year to fish along the Spokane Falls. One of three warriors caught and hanged as war criminals sang a song of hope and a prayer for the Indian people before he was killed.  Pat sang that song, calling for unity.

Mayor calls for unity

Mayor Verner also called for putting differences aside and being a unified community around King’s dream to be one society with equality and freedom for all, open to discovering the unique human being each person is.

“We march to embrace our differences, our diverse cultures in a fabric of many colors, rejoicing in the richness of our community from the original people of Spokane Falls to new people with different voices,” she said.

She also expressed support for naming a street in King’s honor and moving beyond that symbolic gesture to live his dream in “our daily walks.”

Commissioner humbled

Bonnie Mager
Bonnie Mager

Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager felt humbled to speak as a white woman who grew up in a white neighborhood and attended a white high school with only two black students.  Her first black friends were in college.

“How can I speak about oppression I did not live or understand the effect of the oppression from the culture I lived in?” she wondered, stirred by the theme, “The Silence Is Deafening.”

“I can voice what I know of hurtful things swept under the carpet for racism.  King gave his life for freedom from hatred and prejudice.  He did not limit that to one group.  His vision was universal.  He also wanted to free whites from oppression,” Bonnie said.

One of King’s quotes about human salvation being “in the hands of the creatively maladjusted” connected with her experience in the 1970s at the University of Oregon’s Newman Center.  There she was in a group that studied Scriptures, worked at a soup kitchen, marched for peace and justice, and referred to themselves as the “Order of Malcontents.”  Considering herself still “malcontent,” she told of growing up in a racist society.

When Bonnie was a child, her Italian-immigrant, coal-miner grandfather introduced her to prejudice when he would not let her play with a Mexican girl down the street. 

Her parents taught that prejudice was wrong and that God loves everyone the same but her mother fretted in the 1960s that a Negro or Mexican might rent a little rental house they owned.

When two black students enrolled in her high school, Bonnie’s classmates befriended them because in 1966 they knew prejudice was wrong, but when she danced with one of the black students at a dance, a friend worried about her reputation and a cousin wondered if she would marry “one.”

At 16, she was angry and upset about the hypocrisy and injustice of such messages of racism by her family and friends.

“The 1960s were times of subtle as well as violent struggles, struggles we still face,” Bonnie said.  “Forty years have passed, and strides have been made, yet our culture still whispers a racist message that people of color are different, untrustworthy and scary, a message of injustice that still creates stereotypes and results in higher rates of imprisonment for people of color, lower rates of upward mobility and a message that imprisons both the oppressor and oppressed.”

A black college student recently told of women grabbing their purses close as he pushes his cart down the supermarket aisle.  A black friend told of a young child curious about her dark skin asking her mother why her skin was so dark.  The mother replied, “Sh! She can’t help it!”

The work of making King’s dream reality is unfinished.  We must continually break the silence by having the courage to stand up and speak out against injustice in all its forms,” Bonnie said.

For information, call 455-8722.

Copyright © 2008 - By Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree