On Monday, we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day which has been a national holiday since 1986. We have a full weekend of activities planned. We’ll kick off the weekend with our MLK Shabbat service on Friday night that will feature Robin Rue Simmons, former fifth ward councilperson, and leader of the local reparations effort who has risen to national prominence for her role in getting Evanston to be the first municipality in the country to fund a reparations initiative. The service will also feature Pastor Vernon Clark and singers from Second Baptist Church. And our own, Matt Feldman, chair of our reparations committee at Beth Emet and a nationally recognized leader in the reparations’ movement, will also speak.
On Sunday, the interfaith community is hosting our annual MLK Day worship service at Faith Temple where Pastor Carlis Moody, a Grammy award winning musician will be leading the music, religious leaders of all faiths, including myself, will be participating, and Dr. Marcus Campbell, superintendent of Evanston Township High School will be the featured speaker. During that service, we will announce how much money the interfaith community has raised towards the reparations’ efforts in Evanston and some upcoming activities for the community.
On Monday morning, Beth Emet will participate in Interfaith Action’s Walk for Warmth, putting into action the value of caring for the most vulnerable in our society by raising money for community soup kitchens and Interfaith Action’s warming center. And on Monday afternoon, there will be the Evanston debut screening of The Big Payback, a movie about reparations in Evanston. A panel discussion featuring Robin Rue Simmons, the directors of the film, and a few religious leaders including myself, will follow the screening.
Although Martin Luther King Day has been observed for more than thirty years, we might say that Beth Emet anticipated this observance almost thirty years earlier than that when Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Beth Emet on January 13, 1958, two days shy of his twenty-ninth birthday. He had risen to national prominence the year before as a result of the Supreme Court ruling that segregated buses were unconstitutional. The success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was attributed to the Montgomery Improvement Association which organized the boycott and was under the leadership of its young and talented president, Martin Luther King, Jr.
When Martin Luther King spoke at Beth Emet in 1958, he was enthusiastic about the prospect of the United Stated becoming not merely a desegrated society, but a truly integrated one. Sixty-five years later we have yet to realize that dream. The work still continues, but there is tremendous progress being made in our community towards creating the Beloved Community that Martin Luther King envisioned.
Over New Year’s my husband, Danny, and I had the opportunity to visit the Civil Right Museum in Memphis which is built on the site where Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. There’s a plaque below the balcony where he was shot with this quote from the Book of Genesis when Joseph’s brothers were contemplating killing him: “Here comes that master of dreams! Now then, let us kill him…Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:19-20) Martin Luther King was killed at that spot in 1968, but his dream of creating the Beloved Community, a society which is truly equitable and compassionate, is alive and well in our community. I’m proud to carry on the Beth Emet legacy of civil rights that began with Rabbi Polish sixty-five years ago when he invited Martin Luther King to speak and continues through the work of so many in our congregation and the greater community.
I look forward to seeing you over the weekend as we work together to keep Martin Luther King’s dream alive.
Rabbi Andrea London