Leading up to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington – during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his renowned "I Have a Dream" speech – a Connecticut United Church of Christ minister will join other faith leaders on a national bus tour for racial justice. The group, which includes Rev. Matt Crebbin, senior pastor of Newtown Congregational in Newtown, Conn., will hit the road Aug. 20 making about 15 stops in various cities before arriving in our nation's capital. The goal of the bus tour is to initiate healing around racial tension, and organize efforts through events such as prayer vigils and rallies at each stop.
Crebbin is all too familiar with the sorrow that stems from violence, after his town was shaken last winter by an elementary school shooting. He spoke Tuesday, Aug. 6, as the tour was announced, because of his work against gun violence with people of all races and faiths after the Sandy Hook shooting on Dec. 14 claimed 26 innocent lives, most of them children younger than 10 years old.
"We have been honored to walk with those on this path, even though it's a hard path, because it's a path out of loss and tragedy," Crebbin said. "But it's a path that calls us to recognize, because as King said, ‘A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"
The PICO Network, a grassroots, U.S. faith-based coalition, organized the Lifelines National Tour to build awareness of the disparities that exist between King's dream and today's realities as a person of color. The tour is also a response to reactions across the country following the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in March 2012, and the jury's acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who killed him, in July.
"Here in Newtown, we have seen such loss of our own beloved children, and what struck me was when the verdict of the trial in Florida came out, I think for so many people here, our hearts were broken," Crebbin said. "It's not hard to imagine the power of parents losing their children. The power of that loss connects us with this great sense of compassion."
Crebbin has been actively outspoken on the need for gun reform since the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting. In March, Crebbin and Newtown faith leaders came together to write a letter to Congress urging members to take legislative action. The letter was signed by more than 4,000 religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths in the first 72 hours. In April, Crebbin and other Newtown, Conn., clergy joined the PICO network on the National Mall in D.C. for a prayer vigil before a Senate debate on gun legislation.
The upcoming bus tour has four routes covering different parts of the nation, three of which will end Aug. 23 in Washington, D.C. Stops are planned in Boston, Newtown, New York City, Miami, Sanford, Fla. (the city where Martin was shot), Kansas City, Columbus, Oakland and Los Angeles.
"Fifty years after King's March on Washington, as a nation, we continue to be infected by the underlying notion that black and brown males are fundamentally violent, dangerous, and less than human," said pastor Michael McBride, director of the Lifelines tour. "Every day that we fail to interrupt a system that allows the murder and imprisonment of so many young men and women is another stain on the moral character of our country. So, we embark on this bus tour to ask, are we, as a nation, willing to value young black and brown life? Are we willing to give shape to these values through our personal relationships and public policies?"