By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director CREDI
On Wednesday, April 4, the world marked the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr (MLK). I attended two events organised by Christian Aid in London to mark the occasion – a Service of Hope at Westminster Abbey and a symposium: Exploring what justice looks like, held at St Margaret’s Church, next to the Abbey.
I was seated in a pew next to Baroness Doreen Lawrence, OBE, whose 18 year old son, Stephen, was murdered by racists 25 years ago. As I greeted her afterwards, I recalled her many years of tireless struggle for justice. Only two men have been convicted for this crime. Racism in Britain is as rampant as ever – as it is in many parts of our world.
Here is an extract from ‘The Confession’ led by Rev Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons: “Loving, life-giving God…Too often we allow ourselves to be silenced by those who are indifferent to our insights and our experience. Forgive us and make us strong to raise our voices in hope…May we be silent no longer…”
The panellists at the symposium were well chosen but they could not ‘cool down’ the ‘rising temperature’ in the audience. In the end some felt that there were many unanswered questions.
MLK Celebration Choir ‘lifted the roof’ with their amazing voices and choices of hymns both at the Abbey and at St Margaret’s. The newly appointed CEO of Christian Aid, Amanda Khozi Mukwashi urged participants to channel any anger they may feel about injustice into action to make MLK’s dream become a reality in our homes and in our hearts.
She said: “The issues MLK raised are not issues of the past. They are relevant to us today… I have heard powerlessness. Reclaim your power when you step on the ground. Walk and talk with power to be the change you want to see in the world…We are all connected. Use your skills to make a difference. There is a lot of hope and we shall overcome. Stay focused on what you can do; on what God can inspire you to do, and believe in yourself.”
Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust, reminded us that April 20th will mark the 50th Anniversary of Enoch Powell’s controversial Rivers of Blood speech. This year also marks: the 53rd anniversary of the introduction of the UK’s Race Relations Act, the 60th anniversary of the Notting Hill disturbances, and the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the ship, Empire Windrush which brought people from the Caribbean to the UK.
The symposium was held at a time when, according to Dr Mark Griffiths, a top surgeon in London, London’s knife and gun crime epidemic was so bad that hospitals are starting to look like war zones. Dr Griffiths said: “We used to look after people in their twenties. Now people are often in their mid to late teens and children in school uniforms are being admitted under our care with knife and gun wounds.”
The media reports that London’s murder rate is higher than New York for the first time ever. “London’s rate has grown by nearly 40 per cent in just three years, not including deaths caused by terrorist attacks” (Daily Mail). Warring gangs are wreaking havoc in London as they are in T&T. The youngest stabbing victim, a 13 year old girl, is in critical condition in hospital. There have been 55 murders in London since January.
Amidst the air of powerlessness at the symposium, Dr Elizabeth Henry, National Adviser, Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, reminded us that there is no “magic kernel. The solutions are here already. The community is not holding up our children. Parenting is a form of leadership. The Church has to speak to the heart of the family.”
Rev Rose’s prophetic words still echo in my ears: “The streets will continue to raise our children unless we engage with them and with their families.” There was also a powerful presentation by Sheryl Haw, International Director, Micah Global, who said: “We need a Church that gets angry and that dares to dream, not just for ourselves, but for others. We need pulpits of justice and not silence in the face of injustice. The Church must move from compassion and empathy to solidarity. We cannot do it alone. How do we win back our families and protect our children and our elderly? It starts with you and me. It starts today.”
Our faith requires us to pursue MLK’s dream and work ceaselessly to eliminate e.g. racism, poverty, crime and militarism.