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Pastors North, South Of Delmar Plan Peace March At ‘Pivotal Time’ In America

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Evie Hemphill
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Fountain Park, installed in 1978, is the only statue of the civil rights leader in Missouri.

Even before the shocking events that occurred at the U.S. Capitol last week, the Rev. Derrick Perkins was thinking about January 2021 as a turning point across the nation — from the ongoing pandemic, to the uprising for Black lives, to the historic inauguration of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

“It’s just a pivotal time in America, in St. Louis,” Perkins, of the historic Centennial Christian Church in north St. Louis, told St. Louis on the Air last week. “We’ve had so much tension around equity and race.”

So this fall and winter, as he and fellow organizers planned for their fifth annual peace march, Perkins was especially glad to see a church congregation based just south of what’s often referred to as the city’s “Delmar Divide” step up to join the effort.

“For a Central West End church to come on board with us, who we met through another partnership [via Washington Montessori School], it kind of represents what Dr. King stands for,” Perkins said. “He was a person who was quite inclusive, not only in his justice work, but in his interpretation of God.”

The congregation partnering with Centennial and other community groups on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance this weekend is a young one: the 5-year-old Central West End Church. Founding Pastor Eric Stiller said King’s emphasis on building a community “where everyone belongs,” along with the deep divides in American society in recent years, is on his mind a lot these days.

“Dr. King’s vision of beloved community calls us together,” Stiller said.

The peace march is just one element of a holiday weekend’s worth of activities open to the public, including an essay contest for young people, a “Mind, Body and Soul Virtual Discussion” Saturday afternoon and a day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day itself.

The march will begin near the statue of King in the Fountain Park neighborhood around 10:45 a.m. Saturday, following an outdoor commencement ceremony set for 10 a.m. the same day.

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Derrick Perkins & Eric Stiller
The Rev. Derrick Perkins (left) and Pastor Eric Stiller, whose churches are based on different sides of what is often described as St. Louis’ “Delmar Divide,” are joining with other community groups on a variety of activities this weekend.

And the theme this year? It’s a particularly timely one: health-related disparities and divides. “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane,” King said in 1966.

During Thursday’s talk show, both Stiller and Perkins joined host Sarah Fenske to share more about the plans for this weekend and reflect on how King’s legacy speaks to this current moment in American history.

“I’m reminded by Dr. King that his goal in ministry, his goal in his life work, seems to always promote us toward a vision of a beloved community and this idea that love is always greater than hate,” Perkins said.

“And I know in this world that we’re in right now you hear the words forgiveness and reconciliation thrown all around, and that love is what we should be about. But I think we are in a place now that our quests of obtaining reconciliation, forgiveness and love first must be done by, number one, some acknowledgement that the ways in which America has operated nationally and locally has really hurt some communities. … And not only do we have to acknowledge it, but we also must give back those very things that were taken.”

Perkins referenced the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, from the Gospel of Luke.

“That fellow is not up in the tree because he’s just too short,” the minister said. “No, he couldn’t stay with the crowd because he had abused them, he had used them, he had taken from them. … And so when Jesus comes by, there’s something very powerful that happens, and that is, he is encouraged to give it back before he can reunite. That’s reconciliation. That’s the love and the hope that we need in the world today.”

This weekend’s events are a symbol, in Perkins’ view, of two communities coming together to push beyond easy talk of reconciliation.

“We’re trying to live into this vision of a beloved community. And we don’t do that just by our prayers, just by our worship, but we do this in action by putting some feet to those prayers and some feet to our theology, and a heart that leads the way,” he said.

Listeners also wrote in with their own reflections about how King’s legacy is resonating for them right now.

Debi wrote on the St. Louis on the Air Facebook page that it’s resonating “painfully, and raw.”

“Hopeful isn’t a word I use as much, anymore,” Debi added. “If there is a word for the state of expecting the worst, but refusing to give up the fight for the best, I would like to know it. About 12 years ago, a rabbi said to me, ‘It could always happen here. The veneer of civilization is a thin one, for more people than you realize.’ His words left me speechless for the rest of our class. It was like a physical blow, to realize that for the first time, to know it was true.”

Mary wrote: “I was at our Kirkwood High School for two events yesterday responding to racist graffiti last week. Dr. King’s message was read, his spirit alive in this community! Love is stronger than hate!”

Our national observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes this year on the heels of disturbing events in our nation’s capital. How is King’s legacy resonating for you in the year 2021? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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