"The band that sings for freedom must get back together," said Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick during his welcoming remarks at the fourth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration program.
More than 200 members of the Jewish and African-American communities gathered Jan. 16 to affirm a shared commitment to promoting justice, equality and freedom. The program included reflections on King's legacy and on the relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities as well as performances by student musicians from the North Lawndale area.
The event was orchestrated by JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council, Stone Temple Baptist Church, the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society, Sinai Health System and the Firehouse Community Arts Center
"We are at a critical juncture in our country's history," said Fitzpatrick, who leads Stone Temple Baptist Church. "We cannot allow the repeat of injustice, the repeat of history. The band that leads the way toward equality and hope must get back together."
JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council Chair David T. Brown echoed Fitzpatrick's call for action.
"Our two communities have a long history of working together toward making our shared values a reality for all of us," Brown said. "None more so than Dr. King understood that our values must also translate into action. Today, we must look toward tomorrow and in doing so pledge our continued commitment to pursue full equality, safety, opportunity, and justice for all humankind."
The keynote speaker was Shari Runner, president of the Chicago Urban League. She highlighted the kind of transformation required to make the ideals of justice and equality a reality for all Chicagoans and recognized the longstanding partnership between the Jewish and African-American communities. She urged all to confront silence in the face of injustice.
"Silence allows hate to thrive," Runner said. "Dr. King said that 'our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.' Silence is not an option."
Several students contributed music and words of inspiration to the program. Pianist Devin Shaw, an eighth grader at Lane Tech Academic Center, and opera singer Maya Barber, a junior at ChiArts High School, performed; middle school students Marina Brown, Harold Walter Jr. and Tamarion Lewis also offered their take on following in King's footsteps.
"We need to re-awaken Dr. King's dreams," Lewis said.
Prior to the event, 40 volunteers from JUF's TOV Volunteer Network joined Stone Temple members for a special service project, preparing and serving a hot breakfast to the North Lawndale community. Seventh graders from the community also gathered with Chicago Jewish Day School students for a series of games and conversations.
North Lawndale is a historically special place for both African-Americans and Jews in Chicago. The community was once a hub of Jewish life in Chicago and became known as "Chicago's Jerusalem." It was also where King lived in the late 1960s during his affordable housing campaign. King preached at Stone Temple on many occasions even as city administrators threatened to cut off funding from daycare and school programs for letting him speak there.
"We are here to remember what Dr. King did and to remember that we need to push a little further," Fitzpatrick said. "Dr. King didn't just have a dream; he had a vision that America would be a better country. We've come here believing that things will get better. No matter what the circumstances may look like around us, we know that it's going to get better."