Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s teachings about "bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice" remain as relevant today as they were 50 years ago, community leaders asserted at the JUF's annual King Day observance.
Nearly 200 people attended the commemoration organized by JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council in partnership with Stone Temple Baptist Church and the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society.
The attendees recommitted to action-whether smaller, as in getting to know a person from another community, or something larger, like working to revitalize North Lawndale-to help build momentum for justice.
JCRC Vice Chair and JUF board member Bruce Taylor opened the program by highlighting the work done by the Jewish Black Business Alliance in bringing the Jewish and African-American communities together.
"Come to know one another," said Rabbi Wendi Geffen, of North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, who delivered the invocation for the sixth annual observance. "Because that's the type of fabric that can't be torn apart by any politician, by any moment in time."
Taking the call to action to heart, JUF's TOV Volunteer Network organized volunteers from both the African-American and Jewish communities to come to Stone Baptist Temple Church to cook and serve breakfast to those in need earlier in the day. In addition, students from the University of Illinois at Chicago painted and cleaned the first floor of the church.
"The worst evil is not the evil of hatred, it's the evil of indifference," said Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick, referencing a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched alongside King. Fitzpatrick, who pastors Stone Temple and served as Master of Ceremonies at the observance, restated the concept during his closing remarks, saying "we've got to make sure that we don't get complacent; that we are not indifferent; and that we don't accept injustice."
The keynote messages showcased youth advocacy and activism using King's philosophy of nonviolence. Ariel Walton, a journalist and aspiring filmmaker from North Lawndale, shared her vision for her neighborhood where she inspires young people to follow the path of nonviolence. "We are the midwives of North Lawndale," she said. "She needs our help to live its fullest potential."
North Lawndale, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of its incorporation in 2019, is a historically special place to Chicagoans of many faiths, including a large Jewish community until the middle of the 20th Century. King preached at Stone Temple in 1966, while Fitzpatrick's grandfather was a pastor there.
Jake Chernoff is a program associate for the Public Affairs department of the Jewish United Fund.