African-American, Jewish Clergy Meet In Denver In Solidary And Celebration Of MLK

Anthony Cotton/CPR News
From left, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Syl Morgan-Smith, Congresswoman Diana DeGette and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser were among those in attendance at a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Temple Sinai in Denver on January 19, 2020.

On the day before the holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in response to recent attacks against Jews in New York and New Jersey, more than 50 clergy members from the Front Range gathered Sunday at Denver's Temple Sinai for an interfaith celebration.

The purpose was to show mutual support among African Americans and Jews in the fight for civil rights.

"We stand with our Jewish brothers and we won't have that type of foolishness in Colorado," said Bishop Jerry L. Demmer. "If you attack one community, you attack all our communities."

Demmer, the president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, was referring to a December attack at a rabbi's home in suburban New York, in which five people were injured. That was preceded by an incident in Jersey City, New Jersey, that targeted a kosher market, in which four people, including a police officer, were killed.

The perpetrators in both events were African American; in the aftermath, the Ministerial Alliance contacted the Jewish community and pledged to work together to denounce the attacks as well as Antisemitism in their communities.

Sunday's celebration was a symbol of that support. Organizers said it was the first time the annual service honoring Dr. King was held outside a Black church. Many of the speakers paid tribute to King. Some, like Pastor James Peters, offered reflections of times they spent with the civil rights icon.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, pointing out the history of the city's Marade honoring King, told a story of how, 20 years ago, he explained to his then-four-year-old son how the annual event came to be. Congresswoman Diana DeGette spoke of how she'd twice marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The bridge was the site of the conflict of Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, when armed police attacked and brutally beat civil rights demonstrators as they attempted to march to the state capital.

DeGette said she was accompanied on those occasions by her colleague Rep. John Lewis, who also marched on Bloody Sunday. DeGette asked those in attendance to say a prayer for Lewis, who is battling pancreatic cancer.

A number of people were also honored Sunday for their work in the community, including Sheldon Steinhauser. The former regional director of the Mountain States Anti-Defamation League, the 89-year-old Steinhauser marched with King from Selma to Birmingham.

In Feburary, Steinhauser plans to re-create that 54-mile journey with a group from the ADL.

"We have (a long) way to go, but let's not forget all that we've accomplished in the struggle," he said. "The struggle is going to continue and that's what we expect to be part of — and I'm going to be doing it as long as I'm vertical and breathing."