LORAIN — The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. has much to teach us today, more than 50 years after his death.
That’s according to a group of community leaders and people of faith who gathered Monday to mark the holiday named for the late civil rights leader and Baptist preacher whose words and actions changed American history in the 1950s and ’60s.
“It’s great to see us all come together to celebrate what we have in common rather than what makes us different” said Robert Moore, who moderated the program — sponsored by Interfaith Ministries of Lorain County and the International Council for Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment at Lorain Public Library South Branch.
More than two-dozen people attended the event, to hear from Imam Paul Hasan of Interfaith Ministries of Lorain County; Ricky Smith, youth football coach and senior counselor at Lorain Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program; Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy; Mark Jaffee, religious director of Agudath B’nai Israel Synagogue in Lorain; and Greg Coleridge of American Friends Service Committee.
Moore said King’s legacy is to help other people and fight for domestic and international justice. These days, that includes objecting to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, where the U.S.-backed Saudi military says it is fighting rebels. Meanwhile, media and humanitarian agency reports show thousands of Yemeni civilians have died and millions more are starving.
Also a crisis: The events on the U.S. southern border, where thousands of Central and South American refugees and migrants are waiting on the U.S. government to rule on their asylum claims, Moore said.
He called on all people to “act morally and justly” to end both crises, and on people of faith especially to “pray, speak and act.”
Asked how to keep being a drum major for justice, Smith — who coaches Lorain youth ages 6 to 12 in football — said he has learned to, and recommends, that the voice of young people be heard.
“I always start with the children, because a lot of times our children, our youth, a lot of them like to be heard and seen,” he said. “A lot of times we are not listening to what our youth are saying.”
For Hasan, being “a drum major for universal justice” means looking at injustice everywhere he said, calling back to a famous King quote in the 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
“In America, we are so comfortable that we don’t see this as a crisis for us,” Hasan said, referencing the Yemen and border crises. “We’re not concerned with the lives of those that are thousands of miles away from us. And as Dr. King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ ”
Hasan said those in power did not care as long as King talked about civil rights, but noted that “as soon as King talked about universal rights, he was gone,” assassinated in April 1968. “Malcolm X talked about universal justice, he was gone,” assassinated in February 1965.
The U.S. also is facing a crisis due to the federal government shutdown, Hasan said, and will see crises if federal food stamp benefits are allowed to lapse in February.
“We’re going to have thousands or millions of people who are not going to have food, a crisis of justice where people aren’t going to be able to eat,” he said.
King was only 39 when he was killed, “but he had an understanding it was bigger than him,’’ Hasan said. “He had the moral courage to stand up.”
Hardy said “education is the key to freedom.” That means it is important to educate the youth for the large percentage of jobs they will have in coming years that haven’t yet been invented yet.
And “if we don’t better prepare (students) for the future, we will suffer,” Hardy added.
For what he called “a Jewish perspective on the current situation,” Jaffee said the humanitarian crisis on the southern U.S. border shows there are “a lot of people trying to escape poverty and oppression in their homeland,” which calls people of faith to action.
He said there is a “very clear parallel” between the migrant crisis now and 1930s and ’40s Nazi Germany, when thousands of Jews fled Germany and Austria for the United States. An estimated 25 percent were accepted, but many more were turned away, Jaffee said.
Some of those returned to Europe and were killed in the Nazi death camps, while Coleridge said many of the young people fleeing Central and South America today face sexual violence, death or gang initiation if they are sent back.
“Bigotry and extreme paranoia,” Jaffee said. “It’s like what we’re talking about today.”