It all began with a campfire conversation in California nearly a decade ago.
I was part of a retreat with the leadership of Philadelphia’s since-closed Cookman United Methodist Church in 2008 when someone around the circle casually mentioned that the year marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That tidbit of information was followed by a question that convicted us all: “What were we doing to commemorate the tragedy?”
Those of us around the circle were embarrassed to answer the question with an empty response: nothing had even been considered.
What felt worse was the fact that the person who pointed out the anniversary happened to be white. And I, as an African American who followed, studied and celebrated the life of Dr. King throughout my life, missed this milestone completely.
So we did something about it.
In 2008, I joined with the Rev. Donna Jones, the pastor of Cookman at the time, to organize the first-ever Bridge Walk for Peace. More than 300 people gathered at Franklin Square Park–in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge–and at precisely 7:01 PM offered a prayer for peace in the City of Philadelphia where we served in ministry in some of the most violent communities anywhere.
The significance of the time (7:01 PM) was that it was precisely the minute in 1968 when an assassin’s bullet felled Dr. King.
So, every year since, a small but hardy group of individuals from throughout the region have come together on April 4 to commemorate this tragedy as their expression to recommit to the work of peace in their communities.
We now gather early in the morning (instead of the evening) so that we’re at the pinnacle of the bridge at sunrise (or 7:01 AM) to offer our prayer for peace at the top of the morning, along with the promise that, with each new day, we have the ability to make peace happen.
This year a dozen or so people from all faiths, no faith and every expression in- between gathered to continue this tradition. The Bridge Walk for Peace is now the longest running observance of the Dr. King’s assassination anniversary in the country. Next year will be our 10th year of making this annual pilgrimage.
We know that, because of the early hour, we may never get throngs of people to come out. We also know that Philadelphia’s weather in early April can sometimes be harsh. And we also know that, because many people have a fear of heights and bridges, there will always be a phobia that narrows the appeal.
But we also know that the work for peace has never been easy. And, at times, we’ll have to fight some adverse conditions to conquer the odds. Yet, we’ll keep struggling because we know the effort is worth the prize. And we pray that God will continue to guide our steps over the many bridges yet to be crossed.
The Rev. David W. Brown is a Deacon in Full Connection in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. He is part of the ministry staff at Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
By Rev. David W. Brown, Deacon