By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, jwright@afro.com

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., some of the country’s most distinguished ministers rallied together to call on the American people to wake up, stand up and be part of the change in ending racial injustices.

Thousands of people from across the country came to Washington, D.C. to rally against racism and honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo by Rob Roberts)

On April 4, a half-century after King’s assassination in Memphis at the Lorraine Hotel, the National Council of Churches held an A.C. T. (Awaken, Confront, Transform) Rally Against Racism on the National Mall in the District of Columbia.

The keynote speaker of the event was AME Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, who presides over the denomination’s Tenth District.

“I wrote a letter recently to my toddler granddaughter,” McKenzie said to the crowd of thousands. “I said that I hope she doesn’t inherit a U.S. so divided.”

The rally was designed to ignite the dialogue on racism in the country. People from all over the U.S. came to the rally to remember the life and legacy of King and to deal head-on with the issue of racism.

“There are people who will avoid talking about race,” McKenzie said. “That will not make it go away.”

McKenzie described terrorism, whether domestic or international, as a form of hate.

“Terrorism is nothing new,” she said. “It is hate and fear. There was hate when the snake stalked Eve and there was hate when Cain slain Abel. Terrorism begats terrorism begats terrorism begats terrorism.”

She said that terrorism is in “Alabama and Algeria, Ferguson and France and Sacramento and Sri Lanka.”

“No one is safe,” the bishop said. “Terrorism casts a shadow over life.”

McKenzie urged the crowd to “take a stand” against racism, sexism, militarism and classism. She applauded the successful march against gun violence that took place in the District a few weeks ago, saying “when children have to take to the streets, the adults aren’t doing their job.”

McKenzie was introduced by W. Darrin Moore, chair of the NCC and the bishop for the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District of the AME Zion Church, who said that there were no denominational divisions at the event.

“I was talking to the media and they asked me how many churches were here,” Moore said. “I told them one. We are all one in the eyes of God.”

The theme of confronting racism was the universal thread for the event’s speakers.

Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, senior pastor of the Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, said “America is sick.”

“White America is infected with the disease of racism,” Haynes said, quoting King. “We cannot get caught up in Dr. King’s dream and stay locked in 1963. Let’s fi ght the nightmare .”

Actor Danny Glover delivered remarks, said, “Dr. King wanted America to awaken and confront its shameful bigotry” while Baltimore political and social activist DeRay McKesson said that “many people are in love with the idea of resistance instead of working for the resistance.”

Two White pastors, the Rev. Jim Wallis, who is the editor-in-chief of “Sojourner” Magazine and Rev. Jennifer Harvey, talked extensively about the need for Whites to repent of their past sins and push away their embrace of White privilege.

Santha Neal traveled from Media, Pennsylvania., a suburb of Philadelphia to attend the rally. Neal, who is a member of the St. Paul AME Zion Church in Media, told the AFRO she wouldn’t have missed the rally.

“We need to bring awareness to people and issue because things are changing,” Neal said. “It is time to unite the churches because there is a wave of violence against African Americans, especially males. Instead of African-American males fighting each other they should love and stop killing each other.”

Kameron Redding is a nurse who lives in Montgomery County, Md. Redding told the AFRO he came to the rally to remember King.

“I am here to continue the walk towards equality while continuing my walk in faith,” he said.