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A Beloved Community’s March on Washington
Posted in: Aging Well
On the morning of the 50th anniversary marking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remarkable “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington, the skies were cloudy. In fact, they spit rain off and on all day. The wait to get onto the Mall was an hour and a half and once on the Mall, the Lincoln Memorial was far away. When the commemorative events began, we found ourselves craning to see the speakers on the giant TV screen through the tree branches that partially obscured our view.
But was it a great day for the 36 children, youth and adults who headed to Washington together under the auspices of the Beloved Community Initiative? It was a wonderful day for the two of us and for all the others we have talked with.
We gathered at Gaithersburg Elementary School at 9 a.m. where Principal Stephanie Brant, Mrs. McCutcheon and 14 fourth- and fifth-graders were waiting. Asbury equipped our group with bright blue T-shirts and snacks, water and ponchos. Carolyn Camacho came with students and staff from her Latino support services organization, Identity. Also participating were high school student chaperones from the Student Union recent Wesley Theological Seminary graduate and Beloved Community intern Jameson McLaughlin, and Joanne Miller, the photographer who has run several nature photography workshops for students involved in Beloved Community. Soon to arrive was Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz who gave us a lovely send-off.
We were chauffeured to the Metro station in buses courtesy of Identity and Asbury Methodist Village. Everyone was excited – the students, the “over 50 (well over 50!)” participants that included Jan and I, John Travis, Carol Watkins and Don Woodward and Asbury’s German intern, Nico Bernklau, who is living and volunteering at our retirement community for a year. During the Metro ride, the students read about the original March on Washington in Weekly Readers their teachers had provided.
Once off the Metro, Asbury’s Cathy Ritter and Eric Anderson led us towards the Mall Pied Piper-style, the bright blue T-shirts identifying us amid the swelling crowds. We made a stop at the back of the White House where a group photo was snapped. The children peered through the fence excitedly, and one of the girls exclaimed to her buddy, “Michelle Obama is inside there!” Once in the huge but patient crowd waiting to get through security, we ate our lunches and one group of elementary school girls, led by Ana, an Identity teenager, entertained themselves with a game that involved rhymes and intricate clapping. Never once did we hear a cross word or a complaint. Our “Beloved Community” T-shirts sparked inquiries and conversation with other people in the crowd.
Finally we made it onto the Mall and became part of that vast throng celebrating one of the greatest moments in the recent history or our country. We heard Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama and members of the King family, Oprah Winfrey and Congressman John Lewis who almost lost his life in Selma fighting for justice. Many times during the speeches we heard references to the “Beloved Community” that Martin Luther King envisioned where men, women and children of all races, religions, abilities and sexual orientation could exist in peace and reach their God-given potential. We enjoyed music together, listened to the speeches together, and when the speeches were over we all waved back to the three presidents and Michelle Obama as they waved to the crowd.
As we prepared to leave the Mall and walk back to the Metro together, Principal Brant and the children thanked Asbury for making the trip possible. She has since told us that the children started telling everyone about their experience the minute they got off the school bus and were still talking about it two days later. We, in turn, told the students how grateful we were that we could share this historic moment with them. Many of these students have parents who sacrificed and worked hard to bring their families to this country to pursue the American dream and these are the children who will carry the dream forward. We returned to Asbury exhausted but knowing that we had enjoyed a very special privilege.