by David W. Matthews,
It was already very warm in Bed-Stuy, Saturday, August 24, at 4:00 AM as dozens of soon-to-be marchers associated with Age Friendly Central Brooklyn awaited their chariots – buses provided by the National Action Network – in front of Boys & Girls H.S. on Harriet Tubman Blvd at Stuyvesant to take us to Washington D.C.
New York State Assembly Member Stephanie Zinerman, a staunch supporter of the group, was present to cheer them on, and see us off.
Weatherwise, it was a very hot day in D.C., but the warmth actually emanated from the genuine expressions of love of thousands of visitors who came from across the country to celebrate the historic March on Washington in 1963.
More than a celebration, this 60th anniversary event proved to be a model of unification, inclusion, optimism and, in the words of the late Rep. John Lewis, “making good trouble”.
The Black fraternities and sororities were out there, en masse. It was fantastic to observe — within the sea of people on the National Mall with its grand memorials, t-shirts representing the various affiliations – the Deltas in their red; the Zetas, blue, and the Alphas, black and gold.
The Age Friendly Central Brooklyn group — a not-for -profit organization whose mission is to empower adults ages 62 and older to live active, fulfilling lives — helped to grow the ranks as well. What made the anniversary march extra special for the Age Friendly attendees was, for some of them, this was a relived experience. Memories were shared by those who attended the first march in 1963. They shared stories about how they were impacted by that historical event in so many different positive ways.
This year’s anniversary event was organized by The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the family of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The guests invited to speak were from all areas of the Black community. They were old and young, Christian and Muslim, male and female, gay and straight. There were speakers from the Hispanic/Latino, Jewish, Native American and Asian communities.
There was representation from the LGBTQ+ communities, unions, celebrities, and equal rights groups. Inspired by Rev. King’s dream and example, faith leaders shared their personal words of unification for equitable life and living. The collective message was: the fight for Civil Rights justice in the United States has never been only about Black people. Dr. King always said that in order to push back the oppressive strength of white supremacy a collaborative effort would be required by all people and groups impacted by it – in solidarity.
Marchers were there to protest the infringements on, amongst other concerns, voting rights, abortion rights and the right to choose, affirmative action, fair living wages and issues related police brutality and gun control.
On the bus ride home, despite the drained exuberance, heat exhaustion, and aching muscles and bones, the vehicle was abuzz with the talk of the event and the day’s outstanding speakers and orators: Speaker Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, reminded us that Dr. King warned of people of ill-will who want to silence the voices of people of goodwill and, on that day, the reason we were assembling on that day in D.C. was to “to break that silence”.
There was the stark lesson by Imam Abdullah Antepli from Duke University. He declared that through Muslim Scripture it is understood that evil never runs out of tricks, and that two of its most successful ones are: evil convinces us that it does not exist, and that — when we detect it, reveal it for what it is and understand how it negatively impacts us — it moves to divide us by convincing us that the systemic issues that exist are a manifestation of our own problems, like anti-Black racism.
There was Rabbi David Wolpe who spoke to Dr. King’s dream of 60 years ago and assured that, with God’s blessings, people will, one day, “listen to each other and hear that dream again”.
And there was Dr. King’s granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King of the Gen-Z generation, who expressed concern that the country is still in similar positions as 60 years ago. She spoke on the prevalence of racism, poverty and the declining environment. Pledging action not apathy, she led marchers through the chant “Spread the word! Have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation!”. These powerful words were meant to motivate us through to the next anniversary. And they will.