Monday offered an opportunity for communities to pray for their neighbors, lawmakers and people involved in the riot at the nation's Capitol, which occurred Jan. 6.
Mark Moreland, president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, told attendees of the Jefferson City NAACP Prayer Breakfast, held virtually this year to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., that he was torn on what to say.
"The fact that we do this less than two weeks after an insurrection in Washington, D.C., led by white supremacists on behalf of the white supremacist-in-chief and what do you say to an organization with more than 100 years of service standing for the civil rights of all people?" Moreland said.
As he looked back on King's legacy, he said, it is obvious to Moreland that progress does not come at an even pace or without painful reminders of how far people have to travel.
"How painful some discussions are going to have to be, and how careful they are going to have to be," he said. "And how they have to take place within the community of love and compassion and understanding for all people. It's hard, but we have to pray for all those people that invaded that Capitol, and ask for a change of heart and a change of mind."
Pray they have greater empathy and compassion for their brothers and sisters, he continued — it's difficult, but it is our task, he said.
We all must also look inside and identify our own inadequacies in issues of racial justice and determine what we might do to "try to make the world a little better place," Moreland said.
It's easy, during times like a pandemic, to fall down in our efforts to support friends and family in ways we're accustomed to, he said.
Support each other, friend and stranger, was among numerous themes the three-hour event touched on.
In her opening prayer, the Rev. Cassandra Gould, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, prayed for those who "have been raised and dine on the politics and religion of of respectability."
"We pray that we stop ignoring the chaos because it has not reached our end of the community," she said. "And we work until all of God's children can have equitable communities."
Gould prayed that we stop putting policies and partisanship over people and that the lives of Black men, women, boys and girls matter as much as the lives of white politicians.
"May we remember and respond — not just on this day, but in the days ahead — with prophetic action to, in the words of Dr. King, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Gould said.
After witnessing an attack on democracy and blackness, Gould said, the question is "Where do we go from here?"
"The arc of the universe is long, but God, we need all hands on deck to bend it toward morality," she said. "Bend it toward justice. Bend it toward equity. Bend the arc toward freedom for all."
She said to bend until freedom rings from the east side of Jefferson City to the Country Club, bend it until Black lives matter outside jail cells and detention centers.
"Bend it toward the least, the last, and the left-out," Gould said. "God, let us continue to bend the arc until all of God's children experience freedom, help and wholeness."
7th Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance Service takes place virtuallyRead more
State Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said King left his mark on history and the lives of millions of people.
"He was the man who laid the foundation on which the civil rights movement would be known," he said. "He was a shining example of what one man can do to change the course of history."
Like the death of President John F. Kennedy or the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers, King's death is burned in Griffith's memory.
On April 4, 1968, the day an assassin shot and killed King on the balcony of a Memphis, Tennessee, motel, Griffith had just graduated from Air Force School and was beginning special forces training.
That evening was like one he and his company had never, and would never, experience again.
Griffith's company, he said, was placed on a plane and prepared to be sent to Washington, D.C. It waited six hours on an Air Force base tarmac before the decision was made to hold them where they were.
"The days that followed were marked with violence, despair, grief and mourning," Griffith said. "I will never forget that day."
Acting as master of ceremonies for Monday's event, Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. pulled community members into the conversation, including Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, who spoke from the campus of Lincoln University.
Standing beside a bench alongside the Greenway Trail and dedicated to King's memory, Tergin pointed out the bench has a special place in the city.
"Our greenway connects our entire city, no matter where you are. And that is also very fitting," she said. "When you think about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, you think about how he connected people, no matter where they were."
Leaders, no matter what group they lead, should continue to hold King's teachings dear, Tergin said. And leaders should take the teachings and legacy with them daily.
"We know — we have the faith — that we can come together and work together to help each other out," Tergin said.
King wanted people to love one another and treat each other with dignity and respect, Chapel said.
The same societal ills that caused the NAACP to issue a travel advisory for Black people in Missouri are still in effect, he said.
"We recognize that this evil, this cancer, is not just here in Missouri," Chapel said. "Is not limited to one location, such as down in Mississippi County, where Tory Sanders was murdered in a jail cell."
Eleven people, including then-Sheriff Cory Hutcheson, in 2017 went into Sanders' cell wearing riot gear and didn't get off his neck until his lifeless body was placed on a gurney and carried out. Then-Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said there would be a full investigation, prosecution and justice, Chapel said.
"There wasn't anything," Chapel said. "We still don't have a copy of the investigation."
It's an example Missouri sets for the rest of the nation. Missouri can't get its elected leaders to enforce the laws in a way that makes sense, he said.
"That's not right. That is not in line with Dr. King's vision. That is not in line with our moral conscience," Chapel said. "Not even the laws that we have."
There has been a recent settlement from an incident in Kansas City, in which an officer slammed a teenage boy's head into the concrete, Chapel said. Despite the boy complying with law enforcement officers, the officer slammed his head so hard it knocked his teeth out.
The child was never charged. He wasn't breaking any laws. There was a $725,000 verdict.
Some people may look at that number and think, "Wow," Chapel said. What's "wow"-worthy, he continued, is the number of people who have had similar instances, resulting in broken bones or scars from being knocked to the ground.
"It is going to take wholesale attacks on what is nothing more than racial terror personified through people who are public servants being paid with our tax dollars, but that are not properly being regulated by the politicians who are in charge of them," Chapel said. "If you have a 'driving-while-Black' problem in your community, that is not a minority issue. That is a public health concern."
It is up to taxpayers, as human beings and people of faith, to do something about it, he said.
The disproportionate COVID-19 deaths that occurred during the beginning of the pandemic shook the country, he said. People in rural Missouri, seeing the deaths of Black people in St. Louis, said it was just the city, Chapel said.
Now the pandemic is in rural Missouri and everybody's dying. That's a failure of leadership, he said.
If you recognize that harm is coming to people and you stand by and do nothing, you are part of the problem, Chapel said.
"I hope the day comes," Moreland said, "when we can be — all of us — a part of a beloved community that Dr. King spoke of, that John Lewis spoke of, and that this day can be one of true celebration for — not just the life and legacy of Dr. King but of where we have come as a society. For we can fulfill the dream and fulfill the promise that America has to the world."