OPINION | JESSE TURNER: Act on Justice Sunday

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

In cities across the county, this annual event continues to place a priority upon 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.

Justice Sunday 2023 serves as a countdown to one of Dr. King's most powerful speeches, "I Have A Dream," delivered Aug. 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 2023 with Justice Sunday priorities by celebrating Jan. 1, 1862, Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Lincoln, and the first day of National Mentoring Month.

In "I Have A Dream," Dr. 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 Dr. King in his vocation as a clergyman and the role of faith to service by establishing commitment the day before to serve on and beyond the federal holiday.

Dr. 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 well-being for all Americans.

Efforts toward this goal and unwavering commitment will renew priorities of Pine Bluff Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Inc. (PBICVR) 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 well-being 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. Both the terms "Justice" and "Sunday" are deeply seeded in faith, service, and the protection and furtherance of human and civil rights.

In a message delivered by Dr. 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 were with colleagues of faith and justice that Dr. King discussed mobilization strategies. It was volunteers of faith and community who stood with leaders and persons 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, Mrs. 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.

Pine Bluff 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. Pine Bluff can be the example of collaborations and innovation created to solve very complex local and state problems in crime prevention, a reduction in homicides, and a shining light for Faith-based mentoring in schools across Arkansas.

The issues of justice for which Dr. 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 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 clergyman 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 Pine Bluff and across Arkansas. Please visit www.400yaahc.gov for more information.

The Rev. Jesse C. Turner is the faith chairman for the advisory committee with Faith and Justice 400 Years of African American History Federal Commission and president of the Pine Bluff Faith Community Coalition Ministerial Alliance.