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OPINION | JESSE TURNER: Justice Sunday a new hope

by Jesse Turner Special to The Commercial | January 16, 2021 at 10:15 a.m.

The Pine Bluff Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Inc., Arkansas' lead affiliate for the National Alliance of Faith and Justice, began Justice Sunday National Continuum with the annual observance of Justice Sunday in 2006.

In cities across the country, this annual event continues to prioritize community impact, which may be achieved through mentoring by integrating commemoration with national service on the day prior to the federal holiday observed as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

The voter registration group encourages 92 acts of service on the federal holiday representing King's 92nd birthday.

Justice Sunday 2021 serves as a countdown to King's most powerful speech, "I Have A Dream," delivered August 28, 1963. Words echoed in his speech from the steps on the Lincoln Memorial in the symbolic shadow of President Abraham Lincoln also connect January 2021 with Justice Sunday priorities by celebrating January 1, 1862, Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, and the first day of National Mentoring Month.

In "I Have A Dream," King referred to 1963 as a beginning, not an end. The annual theme of Justice Sunday, "A Charge To Keep We Have To Serve This Present Age," invites the nation to honor King in his vocation as a clergy and the role of faith to service by establishing commitment the day before to serve on and beyond the federal holiday.

King spoke of the demands of freedom, the security of justice, and the urgency of now.

His words underscore the priority to enhance educational outcomes for African Americans which will lead to more productive careers, improved economic mobility and security, and greater social wellbeing for all Americans.

Toward this goal and unwavering commitment, will renew priorities of the voter registration group and its national partners, the National CARES Mentoring Movement, and like-minded citizens across Arkansas to encourage mentoring, reading, and tutoring to support enhanced educational outcomes, lead to more productive careers, improved economic mobility and security, and greater social wellbeing for all Americans. Justice Sunday can become a strategic crossroad and benchmark for Pine Bluff and institutions of faith to unite, initiate, and orchestrate a shared vision of change and a goal of recruiting volunteer mentors, readers, and tutors.

Justice Sunday has been observed by millions since 2000 as a precursor for the MLK Day of Service. Justice and Sunday, both the term "justice" and "Sunday" are deeply seeded in faith, service and the protection and furtherance of human and civil rights. In a message delivered by King, he once cited his disappointment with attitudes of segregation, which traditionally occurred in worship environments nationwide at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

Today at this time frame or other standard worship hours, Justice Sunday can become a benchmark for unity and action. It was from pulpits that the charge was often sounded during the civil rights movement to empower the brigades of volunteers and foot soldiers of justice. Leaders of faith often stood on the front lines of bitter and dangerous sacrifice for justice, and it was with colleagues of faith and justice that King discussed mobilization strategies; It was volunteers of faith and community who stood with leaders and people concerned about equality to transcend denominational, gender, strong political, social, racial, economic, generational, and so many other divides for the cause of justice and "needle-moving" change.

It was Martin Luther King Jr., a husband and father, supported by his wife, Coretta Scott King, who by faith rose to become the powerful voice and a drum major for justice. Though faith traditions may vary as a primary day of worship, Sunday marks a day on which congregations of diverse backgrounds gather in fellowship, renewal, thanks, and are inspired to serve.

America has a long history of efforts that were groundbreaking and changed the lives of many individuals, helping shape advances and the continued quest for justice today.

Communities can point to numerous examples of collaborations and innovation created to solve very complex local and national problems. The issues of justice for which King gave his life have improved but continue to require the courage, persistence, innovation and acknowledgment of volunteers to address unmet and costly needs. Mentoring is a valued service to improve the lives of youth in academic performance, life skills, employment and transitional preparation.

We encourage Pine Bluff and the state to observe the Inaugural of Justice Sunday Service Around the Clock a national virtual event for change through sustained service to honor the late Martin Luther King Jr. and his leadership as a clergy along with thousands whose actions during the civil rights movement have translated into a measurable difference in many ways. Volunteers help to preserve public safety, fill critical gaps -- where federal, state and local resources are not available -- and work to engage the rich diversity of American religious communities in partnerships to strengthen the common good in America.

Justice Sunday Service Around the Clock Sunday starts at noon and ends Monday at 12:01 a.m. Details and links will be posted on the 400 Commission website, www.400yaahc.gov, and via social media.

The Rev. Jesse C. Turner, executive director of Pine Bluff Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Inc., also serves as faith chairman for the advisory committee on the Faith and Justice 400 Years of African American History Federal Commission.

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