A bleary-eyed Jessy Gross awoke in the early hours of the morning and left her Baltimore home to march for a cause.
The 37-year-old rabbi was just one of the dozens of Maryland residents to schlep down to the nation’s capital on Monday to participate in the Ministers March for Justice, which began near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and ended at the Department of Justice.
“To see people who have fought for civil rights based on faith values longer than I’ve been alive was truly remarkable,” said Gross, senior director of Jewish Learning and Life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. “There’s nothing more inspiring than standing together with colleagues of all religious backgrounds — Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and more — who are calling for the celebration of diversity.”
To highlight their unwavering commitment to social justice, approximately 3,000 religious leaders gathered in the heart of D.C. at 10 a.m. for the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington. The three-hour event featured about a dozen keynote speakers, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, and Martin Luther King III.
Spearheaded by the National Action Network, the 1.7-mile trek protested the spark in hate crimes, incarceration and discrimination. In addition, the nonprofit organization hoped to send the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions a clear message: They need to be held accountable.
Rabbi Andy Gordon of Bolton Street Synagogue said it was meaningful to see hundreds of Jewish community members, ranging from pulpit rabbis to passionate activists, flock to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism before the march. Gatherers offered words of prayer, chanted “Olam, chesed, yibaneh!” and sang songs in Hebrew and English.
“After all the hatred and all the things that have been dividing us over the last few weeks, it was heartwarming to hear words of unity,” Gordon said. “We need to love our neighbors.”
Clad in religious attire, men and women belonging to a variety of denominations marched through the streets of D.C. chanting phrases in unison, including “No justice! No peace!” and “What do we want? Justice.” Some held colorful homemade signs that read “Kindness Takes Courage” and “Liberty + Justice for All.”
Martin Luther King III led the crowd down Pennsylvania Avenue with religious leaders, congregants and community members at his heels. Among the throng of participants was Rabbi Dena Shaffer, executive director for the Center of Teen Engagement at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.
“This march gave us the voice and the opportunity to express our frustrations,” Shaffer said. “We represented ourselves and how we feel about what’s happening in the world, and I hope that sticks with people.”