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NIC United Methodists keep the dream alive

Posted: September 26 2023 at 10:00 AM
Author: Susan Dal Porto, NIC Anti-Racism Champion Team

In August 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a peacefully assembled crowd of 250,000 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He said some of his most famous words: “I have a dream that with our faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With our faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, and to stand up for freedom together.”

Keep The Dream Alive March

Rev. King’s call to action echoes across the decades. On Aug. 27, United Methodists and friends assembled at the First United Methodist Church–Chicago Temple for “Keep the Dream Alive” to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. Participants filled the sanctuary for worship and later moved across the street to Daley Plaza for a peaceful rally and march against racism.

During worship, Rev. Dr. Myron McCoy, senior pastor of First UMC–Chicago Temple, called those gathered to consider “what a challenge, responsibility, and blessing it is to be the church today as we face eroding voting rights in many states, a Supreme Court that has struck down affirmative action in college admissions and abortion rights, the decision of some to rewrite history, the growing threat of political violence and hatred against people of color, Jews, and LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, these issues today appear eerily like the issues of 1963.”  

“Lead us out of our comfort zones, so we can bless and build bonds with people who are different from ourselves,” Rev. McCoy prayer. “Help us to love mercy and act in ways that are just and right.”  

St. Mark UMC in Chicago and the Gospel Choir of First UMC–Chicago provided inspiring music.

Rev Deppe Rev Taylor Chicago Temple

Rev. Martin Deppe being interviewed by Rev. Dr. Irene Taylor

Rev. Martin Deppe, a prominent white civil-rights activist, told of some of his experiences, through an interview by Rev. Dr. Irene Taylor,a retired NIC black clergywoman who had personally faced obstacles placed by racism.

Rev. Fabiola Grandon-Mayer, NIC’s director of Connectional Ministries, observed, “Racism is still very real at all levels of our society. The work for racial justice is unfinished and it is our responsibility as Christians and people of faith to stand up and continue the fight. If the Christian church fails to the complex issues of racism in our own time, we have failed our fellow believers and our God.  

“The church’s task is to be a prophetic voice, speak the truth, and to be God’s instrument wherever we go. So please don’t get tired of doing this sacred work. Let’s help others not to be indifferent to the needs of others and let’s be the voice of the voiceless.”

Keep The Dream Alive March Daley Plaza Vote Daley Plaza Remarks Daley Plaza With Umc In Background Stand Up For Justice

During this service, Nadia Kanhai, chair of the Northern Illinois Conference’s Anti-Racism Task Force, praised the efforts of local churches to stand up for racial justice. She highlighted these congregations:

  • Friendship UMC, Bolingbrook, and its African American Spirituals Project.
    Recognizing that white churches have appropriated this music into their worship services, sometimes without acknowledging its origins, the church decided that every time they sang an African American spiritual, they would donate to scholarships for local Black music students and choirs.
  • Christ UMC, Rockford, and its “Be the Change” Learning and Action Project.
    The church offered people a four-week opportunity to increase their awareness of racism and take action. Participants learned, acted, and shared their activities on a peace pole, so that others could take note of their actions and act themselves.
  • First UMC, Evanston, and its Supporting Reparations project.
    The church raised money in support of the reparations effort of the city of Evanston. Church members learned more about systemic racism and raised $80,000 toward reparations. This was a significant part of an interfaith response to reparations.  
  • First UMC, Elmhurst, and its Juneteenth celebration.
    The church holds an annual Juneteenth learning and celebrations event to raise awareness about racism, featuring local Black authors, artists, and musicians, and other organizations working for justice. They also raised over $1,000 to support historically Black colleges and universities.  
  • St. Mark UMC, Chicago, and its Freedom School.
    The church’s Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School provides enrichment and academic support for neighborhood children and youth. (See the September Reporter story here.)

At the end of the service, worshipers joined in singing “We Shall Overcome” while marching across the street to Daley Plaza. 

There the past and current president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Michael Childress and Patrick Watson, addressed the gathering. They talked of efforts to suppress voting rights and our continuing need for vigilance and seek justice in many areas. 

Then the crowd marched peacefully around the plaza, strengthening the resolve of each one present. Signs and chants demonstrated commitment. Some of the younger people in the crowd started the chant “keep the dream alive!”

View the worship service

Racism Is Incompatible With Chrstian Teaching 60th Anniversary Of The March On Washington Education Poster

Keep the Dream Alive - Where the Inspiration Came From

By Susan Dal Porto 

It started with a song. 

In April 2023, 37 people from churches across the Northern Illinois Conference embarked on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Tennessee and Alabama. The pilgrims visited important sights: the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum, the Memorial to Peace & Justice (Lynching Museum), the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Lorraine Hotel (where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated), and they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma, AL – recalling the legendary marches of the Civil Rights Movement.  

One of the most stirring experiences the pilgrims shared was hearing from 82-year-old Charles Neblett, who had been a member of the Freedom Singers during the Civil Rights Movement. Neblett sang to the pilgrims, “Ain’t going to let nobody turn me around …” and “I fought segregation, I fought Jim Crow – who’d have thought that 58-60 years down the road – I would still be fighting for my freedom?” Neblett spoke of his activism through music, organizing, and demonstrating.  

Neblett made a strong and lasting impression on the pilgrims. One of the pilgrims, Susan Dal Porto wanted to know more. Researching the Freedom Singers, she learned that folk singer Pete Seeger suggested to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, one of the major organizing groups of the Civil Rights Movement, that music might be a highly effective way not only to fund organizing efforts, but to raise awareness and influence change. In 1963, four young black musicians, who were also experienced community organizers came together and formed the Freedom Singers. Charles Neblett was the bass voice of this group. 

In 1963-64, the Freedom Singers “traveled 50,000 miles through forty states in a Buick station wagon, playing at colleges, elementary and high schools, concert halls, living rooms, jails, political rallies, and the March on Washington in August 1963. During their initial tour, the group performed alongside numerous folk music luminaries, including Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, and in June 1963, the New York Times identified the Freedom Singers as “the ablest performing group” to emerge from a broad field of folk musicians.”

Knowing that the Freedom Singers had performed at the March on Washington, and that 2023 represented the 60th Anniversary of the March, and the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Dal Porto began to imagine the idea of commemorating the March in Chicago. She shared the idea with other volunteers working as part of the NIC’s Anti-Racism Task Force/Advocacy Partners Group. A group of visionaries who were imaginative and influential leaders joined the effort: Lisa Rogers, Amania Drane, Lennox Iton, Nadia Kanhai, Tim Alexander, Nancy Perry, Rev. Eun Hye Choi, assembled as a planning team and began brainstorming a 60th Anniversary Commemoration. 

First United Methodist Church – Chicago was approached to be the center of this event. The church staff there – Jonni Micklos, Erik Nussbaum, Piers Fetters, Rev. Dr. Myron McCoy, and Rev. Sophia Hyon embraced the idea and greatly facilitated planning this event. A demonstration permit was obtained from Daley Plaza. Program plans – speakers, music, logistics were suggested and contacted.  

The result: an exultant celebration on August 27, 2023 and a march and demonstration in the heart of downtown Chicago. A large group of people assembled and demonstrated their faith, commitment, and resolve to the work of justice that people of faith are still called to do.

Your giving to NIC Apportionments supports the Anti-Racism Task Force.

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