By Andrea Cleghorn
Anyone who watched the 2016 Democratic National Convention could not have missed Rev. William Barber, the dynamic North Carolina minister who brought his message of the need for a moral revolution.
“We have a HEART problem in this country,” Barber believes. “We will no longer be silent. We are all coming together to deliver a shock of love,” Barber said, “we need a defibrillator.”
Several hundred people in the Boston area were able to be a part of Barber’s revolution when he brought the “Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution” tour to Bethel AME Church on Walk Hill in Jamaica Plain on Monday, August 1. “It is all about community,” Barber said, “it’s the intersectionality [of injustice]. The same people who are ignoring voting rights violations are threatening the LGBT community, hindering environmental justice, blocking the creation of a living wage for workers, cutting back support for quality public education.”
First Parish, the Unitarian-Universalist Church on Bedford Common, was one of the sponsors of the Boston stop on the nationwide Revival tour. A chartered bus from Bedford brought three dozen people to join the revival.
The sanctuary at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was packed – almost literally to the rafters – and the crowd filled another auditorium on the first floor. The line to get in the building wove around the block. Free tickets had to be reserved online — there were no empty seats and people were standing.
In his opening invocation, Rev. John Gibbons of First Parish in Bedford said, “We give thanks this night for …. the opportunity to be morally revived. Let us seize this opportunity, may we encourage this community to heed this call. Tonight we give thanks for the tireless bus-riding fortitude of Sister Simone, for the long years of service still seeking freedom of Dr. James Forbes and the incendiary incandescence and the sweet joyfulness of Reverend William Barber. In the words of the poet, may hope and history rhyme at last and in the words of the scripture let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time if we faint not, we shall reap abundance for all people.”
Mariama White-Hammond, one of the Bethel pastors, told the congregation that Boston wasn’t originally on the 15-state tour, but “a group of us got together and decided Boston needed a moral revival. We are tired of street fighters claiming the lives of our children. Economic equality is a moral issue. Violence is a moral issue. We are tired of the lack of moral leadership in the city, the state, and at the federal level. Xenophobia is a moral issue. We may be one of the richest states in America, we may be at on the list of top places to live. But there is work to be done.”
Sister Simone Campbell, a member of the Revival tour representing Nuns on the Bus, spoke of the path to change as “letting our broken hearts be open.” She added, “I have a hunch that if we stand together it [would be] just the kind of wall we do need, a step for justice for all people.”
Bob Zellner, a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), has been working for the cause since 1960. He came from Alabama, an area “immersed in the Ku Klux Klan.” His father worked for civil rights, getting to know Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. “In my home state people [of color] were killed who wanted to ride the bus together.”
Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr. the 80-year-old Senior Minister Emeritus of Riverside Church in New York and the first Luce Professor at Harvard Divinity School, drew parallels between Bible stories and an imperative for today’s troubled times: “[this revival is] a movement for transformation of our nation,” he said, urging the congregations to “Risk possibility in healthcare, jobs, learning to be together beyond race and religion.”
Barber’s themes touched a kaleidoscope of topics: voting rights, environmental justice, increasing minimum wage to a true living wage, improving public education
A responsive litany, beginning with a quote from Martin Luther King, was read: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. The truth must be told.” Statistics about the number of Americans dying every year from the effects of poverty and lack of education, bigotry and hatred, voting rights violations, the fact that in some communities it is more likely that a teenager will end up in prison than graduate from high school, and in general “a radical revolution of values.”
Six speakers from the community joined those on the stage. Each told about their own issue, using their own life experiences. Barber led the congregation in singing a response to their speeches and testimonials: “Someone is hurting my brother/sister/community and it’s been going on far too long. We won’t be quiet anymore.”
One was a food server who could feed her family thanks to food stamps and provide health insurance through Mass Health, but could not afford a place to live close to her job – she and her family live in a shelter.
One recent Boston Latin High School student told that her goal to become a pediatrician would be an impossible dream without support.
A retired educator now devotes her life to fighting for climate justice and demonstrating against the construction of the Spectra pipeline that passes through her neighborhood.
Another speaker, a minister, told how the clergy is not exempt from violence in the streets; his own 13-year-old son was murdered on the way home from school, just steps from his own door.
As the meeting went on, Gibbons remained on the stage as the collection of speakers grew. By the end of a night full of speeches, singing, testimonials, and hallelujahs, he joined a line of Boston clergy seeming to be about a city block wide, standing in unity across the front of the speakers’ platform.
One parishioner said she wished her parents were alive to experience the evening’s “on-fire drive for justice and equality,” that they had devoted so much energy and hope to in the middle of the last century. A memory of her own childhood came roaring back in the Jamaica Plain sanctuary Monday night.
The First Parish Bedford bus passengers returned to the Common Monday night and the Moral Revival tour continued on its way, staying in Boston long enough spread its message “Forward together. Not one step back.”
The Revival was live-streamed by Fusion Media and the UU Urban Ministry, and it is available online: Click here to watch the Revival