BY SHANE PAUL NEIL
for Montclair Local

The Union Baptist Church of Montclair hosted an interfaith Zoom service Sunday, Jan. 16, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day and encouraging the continuation of his legacy, particularly his work on voting rights. 

The service, titled “Moving Toward Community Together: Imagining a Just Community,” featured comments by local faith leaders, video clips of King’s speeches and remarks by keynote speaker Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress. 

United Baptist’s the Rev. Campbell Singleton III, Congregation Shomrei Emunah’s Rabbi David Greenstein, amir of Masjid Wadud mosque Imam Kevin Dawud Amin and Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair’s the Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael and Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael were among those in attendance. 

The event opened with a word of prayer from Singleton and Greenstein, followed by a video presentation that incorporated a rendition of the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The presentation included clips of King’s speeches and photos of demonstrations from the 1950s and 1960s.

Brenda Whitworth, hospitality chairperson for Union Baptist, welcomed those in attendance, outlining the reasons to celebrate King, “a great man of purpose,” she said.

“A man who had a dream, a dream that put civil rights at the top of the agenda of reformers in the United States and facilitated the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Whitworth said. “A man who believed in nonviolence and doing good for others. A man who before he was a civil rights leader was a preacher of the gospel, his first calling and his greatest commitment.”

While the service highlighted King’s impact, speakers emphasized the importance of continuing his work in the present day, especially working to ensure voting rights for all citizens.  

“The work is not done,” Singleton said. “We recommit ourselves to not only praying prayers of faith, for suffering persons. We also recommit to pray that we might join together and do the work.”

Hamm, a political activist and organizer for over 50 years, spoke about the continuing struggle for attaining and maintaining the right to vote. 

“We are almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century and here we are, not actually making progress, but trying to get back ground that had been lost,” he said. “We have to build a broad movement, an ecumenical movement that includes people of all faiths … All the people who want to preserve democracy must stand together.”   

Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress, spoke about the importance of continuing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s work against voter suppression during a Jan. 16 interfaith Zoom service hosted by the Union Baptist Church of Montclair. (FROM UNION BAPTIST CHURCH VIDEO)
Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress, spoke about the importance of continuing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s work against voter suppression during a Jan. 16 interfaith Zoom service hosted by the Union Baptist Church of Montclair. (FROM UNION BAPTIST CHURCH VIDEO)
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The Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol was an attempt to overthrow the outcome of the presidential election, Hamm said. The protest demonstrated the power of “a very dangerous movement” that wants “power regardless of what the majority of people in this country want,” he said. “We are in trouble.” 

The People’s Organization for Progress is working — marching, lobbying, calling senators — to support current legislation that the organization feels is critical to fighting voter suppression, Hamm said. He asked the service attendees to call their representatives to voice their support for the Freedom to Vote Act, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“To move forward, we must have a broad and encompassing community that includes all of suffering humanity,” Hamm said. “If we unite and we work together, we can overcome the challenges that face us today.”

On Feb. 2, Union Baptist Church will begin its eighth annual Interfaith and Ecumenical Series of Sacred Studies, which includes talks by local faith leaders and community activists. More information can be found on the church’s website, ubcmontclair.org.