Bob’s Blog: What Good Can Come from Nazareth?

It is well known that our nation’s unfinished Civil Rights Movement has its roots in faith-based organizing, with the extraordinary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the standard-bearer.  Dr. King was principally responsible – alongside many collaborators – for crafting and/or elevating three critical and effective time-honored strategies for advancing social justice in our nation.

The first was through radical nonviolence as the principal means for transformative systems change in confronting racial inequality.

The second was the use of community organizing and people power – inclusive of and centering on the experiences of the most marginalized and oppressed in our society.

Thirdly, he paved the way for reinventing the political and cultural narrative regarding an alternative to inequality and injustice: “I have a dream.”

Dr. King elevated voice and power through love, inclusion, and belonging: the vision of America as The Beloved Community.

As described in John 1:46, a personality named Nathaneal – after hearing that the Messiah hails from the town of Nazareth – mockingly comments: “Can anything good (possibly) come out of Nazareth?”

This passage serves as a powerful reminder to all of us who both wearily and un-tiringly battle uphill in our nation for social and racial justice.  Can any good come from the African-American teen struggling to rise above the juvenile justice system?  Can any good come from the Central American migrant escaping violence and terror in her homeland?  Can any good come from the Queer high school youth asserting the need for mental health support in his school district?  Can any good come from the farmworker laboring in the fields of Visalia?  Can any good come from the former gangbanger in Boyle Heights who now does peacemaking work in his community?

No matter how disconcerting the politics of this nation have evolved – where bigotry, exclusion, and scapegoating now frame the political agenda of this nation at its worst behavior – Dr. King’s message and narrative strategy hold dear and hold true: People Power, Nonviolent Organizing, Centering the Voices of the Powerless, The Beloved Community; full, complete, and unapologetic inclusion. For All.

This will be my last MLK message in the role of President and CEO of the California Endowment.  I say three things to my colleagues in the field of philanthropy: 1) Invest in people power and community organizing; 2) invest in a new narrative of belonging built by the storytellers of oppressed and marginalized communities; and 3) take the work of equity and inclusion to the next level by emphasizing both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

We must look unflinchingly and unfailingly forward.  From James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing:

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring…

Stony the road we trod

Bitter the chast’ning rod…

Yet with a steady beat

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place where our fathers (and mothers) sighed…

Keep us forever in the path, we pray….

Robert K. Ross

President & CEO


Note of inspired appreciation to Chaplain Galvin at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Altadena




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