Laughter swelled and an “amen” chorus rang throughout Lipkin Theater as the Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts said that the United States could be investing the money spent on endless wars to pay for education.
Butts is the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and president of The State University of New York College at Old Westbury in Long Island. He spoke on non-violent social change on January 30. The NCC Pan African Caucus and Student Life Organization presented the event to celebrate the achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. This year marks 50 years since he was assassinated. Although he – and many others have died demonstrating for change – many more have benefitted from its results.
Since the civil rights movement we have seen the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, ensuring the right to vote not be suppressed or denied based on race, and in 2008, the election of our first African American President, Barack Obama. These achievements that would not have been possible without dreamers like King and his vision of equal rights in America.
Reverend Butts’ vision for social justice, like King, is an expression of his faith. He shared Isaiah’s prophetic message that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more.”
Butts focused on the economic oppression in the U.S. The poor of the nation face challenges like stagnant minimum wage, the rising cost of healthcare and the massive debts accumulated for education. Butts said Americans have to get involved – in demonstrations such as the Women’s March in Washington – but more important – we need to vote.
He expressed the nations need for a government that represents the dream of justice for all. “The fat cats are there – a handful of people are making all the money and they think you’re never going to raise a question. They want you to keep scraping and scratching.”
The divisions caused by fear and bigotry destroy what America could be, Butts said. The idea that immigrants are here to take all the work, that refugees are terrorists, that black men are criminals and thugs – these are all smoke screens. When there is division among the people they don’t realize it is their leaders creating the oppression. The poor – regardless of race – are all in the same boat and should be uniting.
Butts believes that “education and faith can redeem our nation” and that “the enemy of civil democracy is an uneducated population.” He said that America is a nation of immigrants. It is the diversity that makes the country strong and dynamic.
“Let’s start holding onto the high ideals of what America stands for” Butts said. A vision that Martin Luther King Jr. imagined in his I Have a Dream speech,” that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”