Last Sunday, Rabbi Andrea Coustan London hosted the third Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival rally, which drew a crowd of about 100 people to Beth Emet The Free Synagogue.
The Poor People's Campaign is a national movement that has reignited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call to unite people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, and the nation's distorted morality.
Locally and nationally, participants in the campaign hold rallies and protests, engage in civil disobedience, and support organizations that are involved in work aligned with the PPC's mission.
The rally on Sunday opened with remarks by Pastor Sayeed Richardson of the Community Renewal Society.
"If one of us suffers," Richardson told the crowd, "We all suffer. We are more interested in the 51 percent we have in common than the 49 percent we don't."
Recalling the years during which Martin Luther King, Jr. was shunned by many for his work, Richardson asked, "Are we willing to be uncomfortable, are we willing to not be liked? Are we willing to be talked about for something that is worth fighting for?"
In addition to Richardson's remarks, the rally featured singing, faith dancing, and speakers Pastor Kim Shelton of A Just Harvest and Krenice Roseman, vice chair of the board of the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy.
A Just Harvest: Fighting Hunger; Developing Community
Pastor Shelton described the work of A Just Harvest, a program of Good News Church UCC, and encouraged rally participants to get involved.
A Just Harvest feeds the hungry 365 days a year, serving more than 100 people every day, and featuring a food pantry every week.
"We believe in breaking bread and restoring community one person, one mouth, one stomach at a time. We are called to end hunger not just by feeding people but to empower them to feed themselves," said Pastor Shelton.
"We are in the business of community and economic development. We are tired of the systematic suffering of the people who cannot bring voice to themselves. So we have decided as an organization to bring voice for them. We open our doors not only to feed stomachs, but to feed souls."
"Justice is more about talking. We have to be it. We have to dream it. We have to live it. We have to be on the margins for it," she said.
"What can we do? We can demand justice. Hold elected officials accountable, and get up and do something with your voice, with your feet, with your hands.
So what can you do as part of the Poor People's Campaign? You can come and serve the hungry. You can devote your time, your talents, and your treasure to the work we do at a just harvest. We are looking for ways to do justice for hunger."
"If we don’t take care of the least among us," Shelton said, "Shame on us."
Moran Center: Representing Children, Families; Interrupting School-to-Prison Pipeline
Krenice Roseman described the work of the Evanston-based Moran Center--which provides free legal representation and social services to young people and their families-- and encouraged rally attendees to get involved.
Here's a transcript of her remarks:
"At the Moran Center, we have dedicated attorneys representing our youth in juvenile delinquency and criminal proceedings to ensure that every child has equal access to justice.
Outside of the courtroom, the Moran Center represents children in the classroom, because we believe that every child deserves and equitable education.
The Moran Center represents children with special needs, learning disabilities, mental health issues, working to make sure these children have access to the additional supports they need in the classroom to succeed.
We also know that in our schools, Black children are disproportionately expelled and suspended. The Moran Center represents children facing exclusion from school.
What makes the work the Moran Center does so unique, is that in addition to the legal services we provide, each child and their family is given a dedicated social worker to help them navigate the social and emotional challenges they may be experiencing: giving them therapy they need to cope with traumas like abuse that may be informing their behavior.
The advocacy work the Moran Center is doing is restoring lives in this community.
Our clients are strong, resilient, and capable but they need a lot of our help. They cannot do this work alone. I understand that systemic racism and poverty are massive issues and that a lot of times it can feel as if our own personal efforts are not enough to make an impact.
But I’m here today to let you know that you can make a difference. Every person in this room can be an advocate for the children we serve.
Attorneys: you can volunteer at our expungement and sealing help desk at the Skokie court house and help our clients seal their criminal records helping them to overcome barriers to education, housing and employment. Or, you can volunteer at our new school-based civil legal clinic and represent families’ civil legal needs helping them address issues like housing and immigration that can impede a child’s ability to stay in and succeed at school.
For all the non-attorneys: you can be an advocate by digging a little deeper into your pockets and making a financial contribution to the Moran Center. You can also be an advocate by volunteering at a local school as a breakfast helper, helping our children. so many come to school hungry every day.
You can join an affordable-housing coalition to ensure that our students and their families are not pushed out of Evanston because they can’t afford it. You can go to city budget hearings and demand that no cuts be made to human services because we all know those cuts hurt our most vulnerable residents.
You can be an advocate by educating yourself on the ideology of white supremacy. And I don’t just mean going to your Black friend to educate you. I mean you doing the reading, and the analyzing, and the self reflecting to have the uncomfortable conversations with your friends and your family that challenge the very basis of whiteness and check your privilege.
All of these ways and many more is all of us putting justice in action. Justice in action is all of us working together collectively to ensure that every child in this community, no matter their race or class, is able to grow and learn and thrive and make mistakes without being discarded.
So I’m here today to ask all of you to join with the Moran Center as advocates for every child in this community.
Because if we’re going to combat the evils of racism and poverty, it’s going to require the active engagement of every single person in this community. We can’t just keep talking about it. We have to put in the work to make sure that this community is actually being the open, welcoming, equitable community it claims itself to be.
Click here for more information about A Just Harvest.
Click here for more information about the Moran Center.