By Angelique Walker-Smith
Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1968, gun shots rang out in Memphis, Tennessee, and were heard around the world.
The gunfire resulted in the violent death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as he was standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel. As Rachel cried out in Jeremiah 31:15, refusing to be comforted in her loss, so too people around the world refused to be comforted in their mourning for King. Violent riots that had started in the United States prior to King’s death only increased after his passing.
The night before his assassination, King gave a speech supporting striking African-American Memphis sanitation workers at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ. His speech, widely-known today as the “mountaintop speech,” continues to inspire.
King said: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop … And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
King’s dream of the promised land was informed by his belief that ending hunger and poverty was possible. Upon his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he said: “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”
King’s legacy of a beloved community embodies God’s gifts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness found in the Declaration of Independence. The idea of the beloved community inspires us in our work to end hunger and poverty. Global Development Goals (the Millennium Development Goals from 2000 to 2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals from 2015-2030) are internationally agreed upon goals for addressing poverty and improving the lives of people living in the margins.
They help frame a way forward even as we advocate for a federal budget that ensures support for those who need empowerment programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to feed their families and to move themselves out of poverty.
Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter call us to renewed seasons of life and hope. Like King who refused to give up on this pronouncement through action, we too are invited to imagine a new world without hunger and poverty and to engage in actions to get there.
King’s impenetrable legacy is the heart of Bread for the World’s, “In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement.” The devotional commemorates King’s martyrdom and the Poor People’s Campaign. The devotionals were written by national and international church leaders.
The April devotionals were written by leaders of King’s national church body, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. May they inspire your work to end hunger and poverty and also finally realize King’s dream of a “beloved community.”
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.