Greetings and welcome to this racial justice Sunday service in the York minster,

The Churches together in Britain and Ireland have recommended that we adopt the theme

“A Dream for the Beloved community” in memory of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered  at the 28 August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, synthesised portions of his previous sermons and speeches, with selected statements by other prominent public figures.

 

August 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s monumental ‘I have a dream’ speech which spoke about all God’s people living in freedom and peace in a world governed by truth and justice.

 

Dr King joined over 250,000 of his fellow Americans that day in Washington to commemorate the centenary of President Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ to free African-Americans. Lincoln, who was the USA’s 16th President, is often known as the Great Emancipator for his historic act.

 

Dr King was in Washington to argue that the freedoms promised by President Lincoln to the newly-emancipated African-Americans never really materialised, and the March on Washington was an attempt to encourage all Americans to re-commit themselves to the Emancipation Proclamation’s original promise. Dr King’s speech still remains an inspirational call for us to work for an equitable world.

 

 

 

King had been drawing on material he used in the “I Have a Dream” speech in his other speeches and sermons for many years. The finale of King’s April 1957 address “A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations,” envisioned a “new world,” quoted the song “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and proclaimed that he had heard “a powerful orator say not so long ago, that… Freedom must ring from every mountain side…. Yes, let it ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado…. Let it ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let it ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let it ring from every mountain and hill of Alabama. From every mountainside, let freedom ring” (Papers 4:178─179). King borrowed this final segment from a speech that Archibald Carey, a minister, politician, and King family friend, delivered at the 8 July 1952 Republican National Convention. King capped the 1957 speech by paraphrasing lyrics from the spiritual Free at Last: “And when that happens we will be able to go out and sing a new song: ‘Free at last, free at last, great God almighty, I’m free at last’” (Papers 4:179).

 

In King’s 1959 sermon “Unfulfilled Hopes,” he describes the life of the apostle Paul as one of “unfulfilled hopes and shattered dreams” (Papers 6:360). He notes that suffering as intense as Paul’s “might make you stronger and bring you closer to the Almighty God,” alluding to a concept he later summarised in “I Have a Dream”: “unearned suffering is redemptive” (Papers 6:366; King, A Call, 84).

 

In September 1960, King began giving speeches referring directly to the American Dream. In a speech given that month at a conference of the North Carolina branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, King referred to the unexecuted clauses of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution and spoke of America as “a dream yet unfulfilled,” (Papers 5:508). He advised the crowd that “we must be sure that our struggle is conducted on the highest level of dignity and discipline” and reminded them not to “drink the poisonous wine of hate,” but to use the “way of nonviolence” when taking “direct action” against oppression (Papers 5:510).

 

King continued to give versions of this speech throughout 1961 and 1962, then calling it “The American Dream.” Two months before the March on Washington, King stood before a throng of 150,000 people at Cobo Hall in Detroit to expound upon making “the American Dream a reality” (King, A Call, 70). King repeatedly exclaimed, “I have a dream this afternoon” (King, A Call, 71). He articulated the words of the prophets Amos and Isaiah, declaring that “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream,” for “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low” (King, A Call, 72). As he had done numerous times in the previous two years, King concluded his message imagining the day “when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (King, A Call, 73).

 

50 years later many people are still seeking freedom from racial hatred, segregation, marginalization and alienation. Today millions of Christian are meeting to echo the voice of Martin Luther King Jnr. many of us are still convinced that the world could be a better place if we were all united, respected one another established working relationships that respected difference, challenged prejudices and pre-conceived stereo types, destroyed harmful myths and old fashioned, toxic values that promote isolation and segregation.

Our  community dream should be to see different faces and races integrate and improve the social richness of our diverse communities.

Our dream should be to see our professional working across the city regardless of their country of origin or social status.

This racial justice Sunday reminds me when I walked in my new post as a University senior member of Staff and colleagues kept on asking me, “so what are you here to study”. When are you going back to your country and disregarded the fact that I had a staff badge and was actually in a staff meeting.

Many people still find it difficult to accept that they can have senior African  or Asian  colleagues. It is my hope that doors will open for many to thrive in this beautiful city making us one of the most open and welcoming City.

I conclude by saying that though not all of King’s dreams have been achieved. 50 years later, the USA has an African- American president with Kenyan origin. A big landmark in terms of racial and social justice.

My the dream of our city come to pass

In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

Rev Dr Lukas Njenga.

Chaplain at York St John University .