Life with Gracie: 54 years after March on Washington, a new call to action

At exactly 6 p.m. Sunday, Kylan Pew will board a chartered bus to our nation’s capital along with hundreds of other faith leaders to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington.

Pew, 27, won’t have much in the way of memories to share with the others, but the anniversary is no less important. The way he sees things, Monday’s 1,000 Ministers March will be a show of solidarity against the hatred and violence now tearing our nation apart; a call for churches and other houses of worship to take their rightful place, speaking out about the growing mass incarceration, violence, and voter suppression happening across America; and to refocus on what matters: health care, voting rights, criminal justice reform and economic justice.

The 1.7-mile trek, sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton and set to get underway at 12:30 p.m. at the King Memorial, is intended to both celebrate the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington and recommit people of faith in an ecumenical strategy that holds up the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for social justice and civil rights across the nation.

Organizers described it as a visceral, “praying with our legs” demonstration.

“Dr. King did not die because he had a dream, but he died because he woke up. It’s time for us to stay woke and continue the fight for equity in education, health care, jobs and economics,” said Sabrina McKenzie, founder of the Legislative Clergy Council, an ecumenical group of clergy and concerned citizens that seeks to influence public policy on issues of concern to the community. “The fight is not only about civil rights but silver rights and he who owns the gold makes the rules.”

It was McKenzie who invited Pew, a second-year student at the Interdenominational Theological Center, to join this year’s commemorative march.

RELATED: Ken Sprague didn’t set out to be a champion of racial equality, but then life intervened

Her invite, he said, embodies what ITC calls the spirit of Sankofa, of reaching back and pulling others up to the place where you are.

“I see it as a chain reaction,” Pew said. “Dr. King paved the way for the Al Sharptons, and Al Sharpton is paving the way for the Sabrina McKenzies, and she in turn is paving the way for my generation.”

In his estimation, that has never been more important than now. Pew sees time repeating itself.

“If you have any doubts about that, then you haven’t strolled down my social media timeline,” Pew said. “You see racism at an all-time high, black bodies laid out on the pavement as if it were the new artwork, you see a people that is lost and looking for direction.”

It is why he worries about not just his future but that of any children he might have.

“I know in this time, many will think that it’s about our current president and his stance on many of the issues, but it’s beyond him,” Pew said. “This is a struggle that happened long before him, and if things don’t change, it will continue long after his four-year term. It’s a fight for justice for all.”

Pew was born and raised in Wichita, Kan., home to the first sustained, successful student sit-in of the modern civil rights movement, but he said that and other African-American history eluded him for most of his life because it wasn’t taught in the schools he attended.

All the while, Pew said, he was becoming increasingly discouraged by his own plight and the struggles of those around him. He was “on the sidelines yelling and screaming, asking why aren’t the churches doing this, why aren’t the churches doing that.”

A few years ago, a friend suggested he ask a decidedly different question: What was he doing?

It was then that he made the conscious decision to make the effort every day to be the man God called him to be, to be the proof that God works in the lives of those who obey him.

In 2010, Pew accepted the call into the ministry and a year later was ordained alongside his mother.

In 2013, after bouncing from one college to the next, he found his footing on the campus of Wiley College, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies last year in Marshall, Texas.

He’d barely found his way around ITC when his world started to open up and he was learning for the first time about African-American history and the role the church had played in improving the lot of black folk.

When McKenzie called him in July about the Ministers’ March for Justice, Pew immediately signed on.

Not only was participating in the march part of the ITC tradition, he believes it’s the perfect catalyst for the change so badly needed.

“A lot of time, we get lost in our everyday life and can lose sight of the bigger picture, what Dr. King fought for,” Pew said. “This is our chance to refocus on his dream.”

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