Faith leaders, community activists, labor heads and prominent entertainers united with Church of God in Christ (COGIC) Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr., to launch the I AM 2018 Movement on April 2-4, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Blake, who is also pastor of West Angeles COGIC in Los Angeles, joined with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to organize the national effort to commemorate the 1968 “Mountaintop” speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., acknowledge the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, and kick-off an aggressive voter mobilization program for 2018 elections and beyond.
“I AM 2018 isn’t just a reflection on the past; it’s a call to action for the future. An urgent call to fight poverty and prejudice, advance the freedom of all working people and communities of color,” Blake told the Sentinel.
“Making real and measurable change in American communities is part of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC’s) DNA, particularly through our Urban Initiatives campaign. We see I AM 2018 building on and expanding that good work our congregants and communities have been doing through those local initiatives,” he said.
Highlighting the denomination’s local initiatives, Blake cited COGIC’s actions in Los Angeles where a group of at-risk youth are provided academic support, job training and community engagement. In Chicago, the church engages directly with gang members to address the root causes of gun violence and crime. COGIC also operates a 50,000 square foot warehouse in Texas stocked with food, water and clothing to help pastors and families still struggling to recover from last year’s hurricanes.
Throughout the I AM 2018 gathering, worship services, marches, panel discussions, concert, youth town hall and training sessions on voter education and civic engagement were featured. Mason Temple COGIC, the site of King’s prophetic “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech, hosted many activities along with the AFSCME Local 1733 headquarters, both in Memphis.
In addition to Blake, the participants included the Rev. Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King III, Andrew Young, Common, Danny Glover, the Rev. James Lawson, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, labor leader Bill Lucy and AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride.
The range of events captured the spirit of King’s final campaign before his death where he joined with 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers striking for dignity, livable wages and humane working conditions in 1968. The effort drew nationwide attention as the men hit the streets carrying placards emblazoned with “I AM A MAN.”
Connecting the 1968 march to today, Blake noted, “It is almost inconceivable that even 50 years beyond Dr. King’s death, we would still be fighting against the same injustices for which he, literally, died. That says loudly and clearly to me that our work is yet undone.
“The I AM 2018 mobilization campaign will train thousands of activists to create change in their communities and carry on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., [and] continue the unfinished work of confronting prejudice, poverty and advancing the freedom of all working people today.”
Blake added, “I am so elated to work alongside AFSCME, the same labor union Dr. King was working with when he was assassinated, for this very significant I AM 2018 campaign. We must live to make a difference and finish the work Dr. King began.”