Baltimoreans black and white gathered together in an East Baltimore church yesterday and recalled the dream of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., pledging to work for racial justice and peace in their city.
The worshipers were members of 14 Presbyterian congregations that form a coalition they call "Harambee," Swahili for "pulling together."
They gathered at the Knox Presbyterian Church, a group almost equally black and white, to sing, to pray and to commit themselves to "the Biblical vision for justice, peace and true hope for all people through Jesus Christ."
Two Harlem Park Middle School students reminded the congregation of Dr. King's dream of racial equality and his challenge for all to work for justice. They were members of Project Raise, the Harambee program at the West Baltimore school that provides adult mentors for 65 students.
"A man dies when he refuses to stand up for what is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice," read seventh-grader Linda Brooks.
Another seventh-grader, James Jones, recalled Dr. King's words from the night before his death, to the applause of the congregation: "I'm not worried about anything. I'm not worried about any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the celebration capped a week of King commemorations in which he saw diverse groups join hands. "This has been an exciting week for our community as we came together in friendship," he said.
But the congregation was reminded that the dream of progress for blacks -- although it has achieved much -- is not yet a reality.
"How enduring is the reality of the black middle class?" asked the Rev. Prathia Hall Wynn of the United Theological Seminary in tTC Dayton, Ohio. "We are threatened with sinking back into poverty. Whatever progress that has been made has been made at great individual and collective expense, and has taken too long."
She told of encountering black college students who have lost a sense of strong black identity and often do not express outrage when they are confronted by racism.
"Why? Because we stopped telling them the story," Ms. Wynn said. "We stopped passing it on. We didn't mean to do it. We didn't want you to suffer as we suffered. We have failed you. We have robbed you of your past. . . The memory of our suffering tells us who we are, tells our children who they are, tells them whose they are."
Addressing the concerns of the East Baltimore neighborhood surrounding the church, Ms. Wynn told those who had gathered that they cannot forget the "hopelessness and despair" that affects so many in the community.
"We may not live here, but the people do. So there's no time for an attitude, 'I've got mine, you get yours," she said.
"We can turn around the isolation of the black underclass, which is not just isolated from white America, but from the black middle class, too."
Then, with representatives of the churches coming forward to the sanctuary, along with Maj. Alvin Winkler, commander of the Police Department's Eastern District, the congregation reaffirmed its covenant to work for the welfare of the community.
As a sign of that covenant, the worshipers streamed out of the church onto the street singing "We Shall Overcome," lighted candles in each hand.