Havre de Grace synagogue, AME church celebrate King's legacy, unveil 'River of Justice' mosaic

"River of justice' mosaic unveiled during MLK celebration by Harford County synagogue and AME church

After members of Temple Adas Shalom lifted the cloth on their finished mosaic, a bedazzled river cutting through jewel-like shores, the lyrics of a worship song poured over the crowd: "Let justice roll like a river, like a river let it roll."

The Sunday afternoon celebration at the Havre de Grace synagogue was part of an annual event paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during which synagogue members also marked the completion of a "River of Justice" mosaic they had spent the past year working on jointly with the congregation of nearby St. James AME Church.

Despite the season's first snowfall, albeit a light one, arriving with a chill in the air, dozens of people filled the temple's social hall to hear speakers such as Keshia Thomas, who drew national attention in 1996 after she was photographed defending an alleged KKK member being attacked at a Michigan rally.

"I don't know what happened, it felt like two angels had picked my body up," Thomas recalled from the experience, explaining that while she did not agree with the man's views, she respected his freedom of speech.

"I laid on top of this man and I ended up saving his life. You see, I'm not one's judge, juror or executioner," she said.

Thomas also told the gathering of her latest social justice efforts, marching from Selma, Ala., to Washington, D.C., last September as part of the NAACP's Journey for Justice on the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma march for civil rights.

"This was not only praying and unifying us with our feet, this was unifying us across the country," she said.

She was joined on the march by Columbia-based Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, another speaker Sunday, who described the unique event and the sudden death of a leader known as "Middle Passage" during the march.

"The events in Baltimore following the arrest and death of Freddie Gray brought home also what I had been seeing from afar, how education disparity, police treatment of minorities in particular, inequities of the justice system and lack of access to voting were truly pushing minorities, especially African-Americans, back into the dark days of Jim Crow," Plotkin said.

Bel Air resident and longtime civil rights activist Phillip Hunter also described his time on the original, historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965, which was led by Dr. King and was broken up by police attacking the non-violent marchers.

Rabbi Gila Ruskin, who first built a partnership with the Rev. Baron D. Young of St. James when they began studying the Bible together, said the mosaic will travel between both congregations "to remind us of this partnership and this fellowship that we are carrying on the words from the prophets."

Those who attended the event praised the colorful mosaic as a symbol of the work invested in the congregations' friendship and the longtime relationship between Jewish and African-American communities in fighting for racial justice.

Aberdeen's Julie Sang, with Temple Adas Shalom, said that partnership is exactly what should be happening.

"It truly is a collaborative effort," she said of the relationship, calling the mosaic "magnificent. It really is just the fact that so many people were involved."

As Thomas, Plotkin and other gathered at Adas Shalom observed, the fight for justice is not over. Last year's Journey for Justice strove to advocate for a fair criminal justice system, unfettered voting access, sustainable jobs and equal public education.

Theon Curtis, who moved back to Aberdeen about two years ago, said she had briefly moved to North Carolina to work on President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

"This was a wonderful gathering," she said. "We've got Jews and blacks and Italians, and that's unity."

Curtis also said such reminders of Dr. King's vision are needed, "as long as we keep it moving, because Harford County does have a lot of racism here."

"This is a good thing; this is a great thing," she said of the program. "The county does have a long way to go. One day, hopefully, they will reach their goal."

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