It is Time to Walk the Walk, Not Just Talk the Talk!

I had the honor to spend two days on America’s Journey for Justice – an 860 mile walk, organized by the NAACP, from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C.

We began the journey at the Amelia Boynton House where civil rights activists gathered 50 years ago to organize a march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for voting rights. The march that day turned into what was known as “Bloody Sunday,” and Amelia Boynton, one of the organizers, was beaten unconscious on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by police.

It was a dark day in American history, which nevertheless became a catalyst for change. American men and women – who paid the same taxes as their neighbors, who fought and died in American uniform for the freedoms of others, and who were essentially denied the right to vote – organized to demand their civil rights.

Today, after all the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of that march have passed, the reality is that the rights of our brothers and sisters in so many states are being systematically dismantled. That alone would be enough to demand we stand up and march for justice. But this is happening at a time when unprecedented numbers of young black men and women, who should be receiving the protection of the law, are seemingly losing their lives at the hands of the law. And at a time when, in the peace and serenity of Bible study at an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, nine people were murdered for the color of their skin. The ugly head of racism has surfaced once again, and the roots of such hate cannot be ignored.

Each death of a black citizen at the hands of law enforcement officers raises more questions of the role race plays in these cases. As the “Black Lives Matter” movement grows, so does the concern. Mothers and fathers of color wonder what is to be feared: a traffic stop for a tail light out, an illegal turn, selling cigarettes on a street corner? And they wonder: are their children safe in America?

In response, this past Shabbat, men and women from every walk of life – union workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, religious leaders, senators – gathered in Selma to start a walk to Washington to demand justice, to raise consciousness, to end racial profiling, to stop unjust mass incarceration, to call for better wages and jobs, to fight for fair and equal education, and to ensure our fellow Americans cannot be denied the right to vote.

Over 150 Reform Rabbis will travel from every corner of this nation to carry a Torah on this Journey for Justice, and I was honored to speak at the prayer service to launch our Journey. I was also honored to walk, side-by-side, stride-for-stride, with NAACP President Cornell William Brooks as we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge as part of the 20 miles we walked each day for justice. When we finished marching at the day’s end, we gathered as a sacred community to pray and study together, and to discuss how we can achieve a better tomorrow and a better America.

In the reflections on the first night of the march, NAACP Board Member Leon Russell said to the crowd gathered: “We are delighted to have our Jewish brothers and sisters march by our side.” He then paused: “They know much of our pain. When the Jim Crow laws were in effect I remember all too well that too often the signs read: No Jews, no N*ggers, no dogs! In that order!”

President Brooks thanked us, the rabbis who marched that day, and the 150 who will join in the days to come, and he said it is great to reunite with Jewish leadership in this sacred task. Yes, we Jews have been “the other” as well, and we know the pain of hate too, but we march because we know to stand up for justice is to do what God demands of us!

I admire the strength and the fortitude of those who will spend 40 days and 40 nights journeying across America to demand justice. As these marchers cross the threshold of their journey into Washington, we will be honored on September 15 to greet all of them and to be a part of history, as they gather at WHC in Kaufmann Sanctuary with religious leaders, political leaders, and men and women of all walks of life from every corner of this nation to pray, to teach, to rally, and to demand that our leaders work for a better tomorrow and for a better America. Join us on that day to make it a good New Year and a year of true justice for all!

Follow America’s Journey for Justice on Twitter at #JusticeSummer.