More than 100 local ministers and community leaders heard National Action Network President Al Sharpton ask them to take up the mantle of “moral leadership” by participating in the Thousand Minister March on Washington Aug.28 at the Martin Luther King Memorial.

The Rev. Al Sharpton is recruiting area-pastors to stand for justice and march. (Courtesy photo)

Sharpton, the keynote speaker on Aug. 18 at a prayer breakfast held at the Southern Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Md., says the recent events in Charlottesville and in Maryland, where statues and Confederate symbols are coming down in the face of protests from White supremacists and President Donald Trump, have called into question many of the gains made during the Civil Rights era.

“If you are not willing to become a moral leader, then put down your Bible and take off your collar,” said Sharpton. “It’s not about Black or White, Republican leadership or Democratic leadership, it’s about moral leadership. If you are scared, say you are scared and sit down and let somebody else do something.” He said just as they did in the 1960s, it was time for ministers to take their positions as leaders for social change.

The pre-march prayer breakfast was held to galvanize support among clergy for a march up Pennsylvania Avenue to the MLK Memorial. “We want to bring 1,000 ministers together,” Sharpton explained. “They can’t say it was the Black Lives Matter or anyone else who was there to cause problems as they did in Charlottesville. We have faced bigger and badder than Trump.“

Sharpton said it is important to remember that statues coming down, including the one in Maryland of Roger Taney who upheld the Dred Scott decision that supported slavery and the oppression of Blacks, meant nothing if the policies that oppressed the poor and minorities remained the same. “We have to change the spirit,” he said. “It does little good to remove a statue if the laws that hurt us remain the same.”

Maryland Del. Darryl Barnes (D-25), who attended to breakfast, told the AFRO that removing the statues was fine, but it was time for the people of Prince George’s to lay aside petty differences to take back the statehouse. “This is the best opportunity we have had to elect someone from Prince George’s County to the statehouse and to gain important positions in the legislature. It’s not about who didn’t speak to someone. It’s about gaining political power and the ability to help our community.”

The Rev. Charles W. McNeill Jr., president of the National Baptist Convention D.C. and Vicinity, who organized the event, said it is important members of the clergy be part of the solution rather than remain complacent. “We have to be the driving force for change in our community.”