Community members of various faiths, races and ethnicities joined in downtown Modesto on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, to call for peace, love and unity.
For the 35th year, Christian Love Baptist Church observed the anniversary of the birth of the civil rights leader on Jan. 15, 1929. The program included prayer, song, music, dance, speakers and the presentation of the church’s first Peacekeeper Award.
King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968 In opening remarks Monday, Christian Love’s pastor, the Rev. Roderick Cochran, called King the drum major for civil rights.
Cochran told those gathered inside the H Street church that there is no way for the nation to have a bright future without owning its dark past. “Don’t be ashamed of what has happened to our generations prior to us, no, because we have an opportunity to set a new precedent, to begin again the work of Dr. King,” he said.
All members of the community, not just those minoritized, should “seek equity, and not necessarily equality,” the pastor said to an audience that included Modesto’s mayor and vice mayor, two Stanislaus County supervisors, a Modesto City Schools board member, the Modesto police chief and Stanislaus sheriff, among other community leaders.
Another speaker, Rabbi Shalom Bochner of the Modesto synagogue Congregation Beth Shalom, was introduced by Sheriff Jeff Dirkse. The sheriff said that in the wake of a hostage situation at a synagogue in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas, this weekend and in the spirit of peace and freedom, “it is absolutely imperative that we remember our Jewish community now.”
Bochner spoke of being inspired by King’s vision of equality and justice for all who experience oppression and the civil rights leader’s support of workers and their rights.
The rabbi said he also embraces King’s ideas about a world of harmony, but ponders the question of how to get there. “How do we move forward against the rising forces of denial, hate and violence represented by white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, anti-Asian oppression and all forms of othering that are sadly too alive and well in our country?” he posed.
The answer, he said, is simple but very demanding. We need to stand together, learn about one another, celebrate not just what we have in common but what makes us unique, Bochner said. “We need to build this world of love and human oneness one relationship at a time.”
The King commemoration also included the presentation of Christian Love Church’s first Peacekeeper Award, an honor Cochran said will be given annually. The recipient was Modesto police Officer Michael Rokaitis, who had to have part of his right leg amputated as a result of being shot while serving a search warrant in August.
The officer made his sacrifice while “ministering in the area of peace, keeping us safe, keeping us protected and also reestablishing an opportunity for us to remove the stigma of animosity between minorities and law enforcement,” Cochran said in honoring Rokaitis.