Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin Led a Delegation from MCC and the Global Justice Institute at the 50th Anniversary of the
Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March
I was on Holy Ground! On Saturday, when I heard President Obama give one of the best speeches of his presidency, and one of the speeches I have ever heard, all I could say was “PREACH!”
I was surprised (but not entirely appalled) when theGovernor of Alabama was introduced and the crowd jeered him with loud boos! I was standing next to a young woman who said, “Y’all, we are on national TV” and another young lady responded, “now they know how we feel .. he’s on the same stage of our President. That governor refused to expand medical coverage under the Affordable Care Act.” I added, “And, he could have done better with Marriage Equality.” Of course I got a look.
When the President (who was warmly received) made reference to lives being better and said “ask a gay person” one of the women looked at me again and said, “Oh, now I get it.” I was standing with a group of six people, unknown to me, all who then looked at me and gave a “thumbs up” of affirmation. A young man then said, “it is great to be standing next to someone that our President just referenced in his speech.” When it was over, I said, “it was an honor to stand here, on this holy ground, in this place with each of you to hear and witness this event.” We shook hands, then someone initiated a group hug and we just stood there holding each other. I could feel the young lady next to me begin to shake with sobs. When it was over she said, “I need to go call my brother, who is gay, and tell him I love him and I get it.” It was holy ground.
I stood in line for hours to be at this event, and I would gladly stand in line for hours more to do it again.
On Sunday, I made my way to Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church, had a chance to meet and speak with the Pastor, Rev. Cromwell A. Handy. Worthy of note: the organist for Sunday was the organist that Dr. King hired in 1955. It was holy ground!
I made my way through the crowd poised to march across that historic bridge in Selma. I was with my sister-in-law and my niece as we found our place by Brown Chapel and listened to speakers. The Rev. Al Sharpton was ON FIRE; I mean he PREACHED!!! “A lot of what we are celebrating today was nullified by the Supreme Court,” he said. “We have to continue to fight!”
When we were ready to march, the organizer announced that the march over the bridge had already started and that we were basically trapped where we were because if we left the church area there would be nowhere for us to go once we arrived at the bridge because of the crowd. They also announced that the Mayor had called the Governor and asked him to “send in more troops” for crowd control. The sentence struck me as odd given the history of troops being summoned to “control” justice-seeking crowds. It brought to life the memory of martyrs. It was holy ground.
Thankfully, my sister-in-law knew the back route and a short cut which is where I ran into Rep. Maxine Waters of California and had a great conversation with her about incarceration issues and soon after I met Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama.
80,000 plus people descending on a city of 20,000 residents posed some logistical challenges, but they did the best they could. I think the problem occurred when they opened up all the streets after the President left. There was no longer a crowd control flow. But, it was holy ground.
Speakers over the weekend from Rev. Sharpton to Rep. John Lewis of Georgia to the President of the United States made it abundantly clear: there is more to do. There is more work to be done with health care, with the justice system, with immigration, with LGBT rights, with voting rights, with the unfortunate legacy of racism…there is more work to do. The entire event promised the possibility of new birth. I think MCC and the whole LGBTQ faith movement can be a midwife to the progress and healing that is still to be born. I think it is time to reevaluate our sense of social justice and how our stories go hand in hand with the civil rights movement. We must hear the stories; we must share our own. We must continue to work for better days.
My heart is so full, I could wax on and on. But instead, I will simply say again that being in Selma over the weekend for me amounted to being on holy ground. But, just as Moses found himself on holy ground and then felt called to move forward to confront injustice, I and we must move on from the holy moment on holy ground to do the holy work that we are being called to do.
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin serves as the Executive Minister at Sunshine Cathedral MCC, a member of UFMCC’s Governing Board, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Divinity School, and a member of the Global Justice Institute’s Public Policy Team.