Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness offers insight into Dr. King’s legacy and her continued hopes for peace and justice amid a return to racial hostilities. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)
One of the first things visitors to St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Northwest D.C. witnessed during its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration Jan. 10 was the shared vision of peace by attendees. Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and African faiths believers took part in the community program.
Hosted by WYCB-1340AM radio announcer Winston Cheney, fervent prayer and dialogue on how best to embrace King’s legacy of non-violent activism and civil disobedience filled the sanctuary at a time when church-related violence has all but paralyzed the nation. The service was coordinated by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and included a processional lead by the Adams Center Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts and musical selections from student singers, The Overtones.
Aja Haseem, both a Muslim and a Black woman, found the rising tide of racial hatred and religious intolerance frightening, but took solace in prayer and the words of Dr. King. “There is a lot of nastiness and a lot of tension among regular people who would insist that they are not racists or religious bigots, so sometimes you find yourself on guard,” Haseem said. “There are Black people who do not know I am Muslim and will say the most incendiary things about Islam. And also Muslims I have met who do not realize I am Black and do not like Black people. We all have to work to level out the intersectionality so that we see only people and the human condition.”
Some of her favorite King writings center around forgiving evil to avoid becoming consumed by hatred for those who do harm.
Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness, who offered a prayer to end religious-based strife, said she was initially heartbroken by the attacks White supremacists made on Black houses of worship and saw it as a harmful return to the days when saints could be struck down by hatred. “I was born in Columbia and one of my first ministerial positions was in Lexington, South Carolina, where the young man who carried out the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church lived. I was in South Carolina when someone threw a Molotov cocktail through our church window – and I was with senators talking about removal of the flag totally from the grounds of the Capital and that was 15 ago,” Holness said. “I pay homage and respect to those nine people – children and mothers of the church – who were gunned down at the end of Bible Study.”
Holness, a South Carolina native, said in remembering King, she wanted those of various faiths to understand that God has a way of bridging differences so that the hearts of the righteous are of one accord.
The Rev. Mansfield Kaseman, who shared the dais with Holness, said he has been an ardent and steadfast supporter of Muslim-Christian solidarity, especially in the face of increased calls for profiling of and discrimination against Muslim communities by people such as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “In the midst of our diversity we are discovering diversity that is uniting and calling us beyond the fear and prejudice of our time to embrace one another to deepen interfaith understanding and create a more beloved community,” Kaseman said.