“I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
These were the closing remarks in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last public address on April 3, 1968 before he was assassinated the following day. Perhaps, drawing from his own Christian faith that King professed, he echoed the heart of the prophet and leader, Moses. As recorded in Exodus 34:4, “Then the Lord said to him, ‘This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
According to Biblical history, Moses, led the Israelites out of captivity under the Egyptians and was to guide the people into the promised land. The Pentateuch chronicles this journey, highlighting the work Moses was able to do–even performing miracles and signs in front of the Israelites, unlike what they had ever seen before.
Today, Dr. King is hailed as a social activist who led the civil rights movement and achieved many milestones with his involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. Even earning him the title of Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963, along with becoming the youngest man to have received the Noble Peace Prize in 1964.
The parallel between the two men is uncanny, as many would argue that King had much left to do before his life ended. The promised land for Moses may have been the land of Canaan, but what was the promised land Dr. King worked tirelessly to enter? And did we enter it like he stated we would?
Almost fifty years after his passing, King’s legacy lives on. Since 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been celebrated every third Monday of January to honor the work that King accomplished in his lifetime and remember the ideals he set into motion.
One such event was held on January 18, 2015 at the Gospel Memorial Church of God in Christ in Long Beach, California. The 23rd Annual Community-Wide Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith and Intercultural Celebration hosted by the South Coast Interfaith Council, Long Beach Religious Leaders Association, and NAACP, Long Beach Branch gathered not only religious leaders but members of all walks of faith, In Pursuit of Creating a Just and Compassionate Community.
Beginning with a warm welcome and introduction to the religious leaders by Cantor Ilan Davidson of Temple Beth El, the hearts of attendees were open wide with a song, “Lift Every Voice.” The program included a keynote address by Rev. Dr. Leon Wood, Executive Pastor of Church One of North Long Beach. Dr. Wood recounted the work that Dr. King was able to achieve, yet emphasized the steps that still need to be taken to realize King’s dream in today’s society. Acknowledging that although these steps may be difficult, change can be accomplished. To highlight this message, a bright-eyed 6th grader from NAACP Youth and Nixon Academy, Bria B. took the stage to express that change truly starts with you and me in a performance of “Let There Be Peace On Earth” that left the audience with hands raised and shouts of agreement.
Making the changes necessary to establish peace and unity. This was a message Dr. King preached and lived by, not only in his work to advocate for civil rights, but even in his own life of faith. Born as Michael King, Jr into a Christian household, Dr. King came from a lineage of pastors starting from his grandfather. With the commitment to uphold the principles of reformist, Martin Luther, his father even changed his name to Martin Luther, Sr. and so he followed suit. Upon graduation at Morehouse College, Dr. King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania and later in life, became a co-pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, along with his father. As deeply devoted as he was to his Christian faith, Dr. King, had no reservations in incorporating ideals or principles to achieve his purpose. His religious ties were unchanging, yet, his message powerfully reached across all peoples, religions, cultures, and ethnicities. His dedication to change far outweighed any limitations placed by tradition or religion, as his vision encompassed an outlook for humanity that inspired many.
This included even a young Muslim girl who grew up in the “Bible belt” of the Midwest. Now the Executive Director of South Coast Interfaith Council, the oldest and largest interfaith council in Southern California, Milia Islam-Majeed, leads the organization in creating communities of compassion among people of different faith and cultures.
“The fact that we are all here, different cultures, different ethnicities, different faith traditions…the mere fact that we are can come together in peace and in one room and honor the legacy of Dr. King. I think that in itself is a testament to who he was and just the work that we do in line with his philosophy of really creating unity and really becoming peacemakers. Not negating the fact of who we are or what our faith tradition is, but choosing to be here together because of that and making a cognizant decision that we are going to be the change that we want to see.”
A decision. A determination. A heart for change. Just as Moses told Joshua to be strong and courageous as he was to pick up the mantle and lead the Israelites into the land of Canaan, the voice of Dr. King reminds us that “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” There is still much work to be done, but a work that is worth it—to enter a land, a world of equality for all people and peace for all mankind.