I have lived at St. Mark’s School, Harlem for almost two years. I seek to steep myself in the history and energy of the civil rights struggle in this neighborhood. St. Mark’s was built 101 years ago by Mother Katherine Drexel, foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
The churches of Harlem organized a bus to go to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I was impelled to participate with my neighbors. Our new pastor, Spiritan priest Fr. Freddy Washington, a student from Cameroon, a French-speaking priest, a young woman from Papua New Guinea who is working at the UN with Franciscans International and I formed a traveling cohort. On Saturday, August 24 at 3 AM, there were two busses bound for the Anniversary March for Jobs and Justice. I was surrounded by solid, faith-filled women and men of color of all ages.
Fr. Freddy explained that he attended the 1963 March with his parents from South Carolina. Three weeks later, Fr. Freddy was born. What a gift to receive the call to justice from the womb.
Hundreds of busses arrived at the RFK Stadium. This March was coordinated by the National Action Network, Urban League and the Martin Luther King Center. The most visible groups included churches, civil rights groups and labor. I was impressed by the number of young families of all races. There were calls for justice around voting rights, funding for public schools, job creation, economic and political justice for all Americans. The speakers and participants raised examples of injustice that persist in 2013, including efforts by several states to restrict access to voting, inadequate public schools, New York’s “stop and frisk” policy, and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Speakers proclaimed the multiple actions of African Americans to achieve economic and political freedom during the last fifty years. We celebrated those who integrated schools, those who rode Freedom Busses and were beaten, and those who organized people to speak for themselves and insist upon the vote, education and work. The US Congress in 1963 was moved by people-power, and the laws of the land changed.
There was a mood of calm and a spirit of nonviolent resistance that refreshed my soul. When we sat in the shade on the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial, I could not hear the speakers clearly. The man next to me had a radio broadcast on his phone and graciously shared it with us. I thank Louis from Detroit!
During the March I pondered my responsibility in bringing about economic and political justice. I thank God that I belong to networks of power-people: the church, the Daughters and Sisters of Charity, the Vincentian Family, NETWORK, and the Interfaith Women of New York. I am charged! And I am haunted by one man’s sign: “My freedom is a J.O.B.”
Back at the stadium lot full of busses and food trucks, we discovered that our bus driver had become ill and we were waiting for a new driver who was coming from NY. We watched a documentary on Bayard Rustin, a giant in nonviolence and an advisor to Martin Luther King. We also sang and danced with Motown celebrations from the Apollo Theater. Four hours later we returned to New York City. It was a full and challenging day. I am grateful.
Sister Julie Cutter, DC
Executive Director, Sisters of Charity Federation