[The Episcopal News] A “crisis of character” provoked the violence that rocked Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told an overflow crowd gathered at All Saints Church in Pasadena on May 3.
“Our character is on trial,” Jackson said in his morning homily, charging that the nation must measure its character by how well we treat the least among us, the children, the poor in the pit of life, the old in the sunset of life, and all in need.”
Preaching at the invitation of Bishop Suffragan Chester Talton, Jackson described the riots as “a kind of spontaneous combustion, an accumulation of discarded materials ignited by some spark.”
Those “discarded” by government are 35 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, 40 million without health insurance, and 20 million unemployed,” Jackson said.
Among these are hundreds of elderly South Central residents who waited in line for hours May 1 and 2 at post offices with no restrooms in order to pick up Social Security and welfare checks because mail delivery had been suspended, Jackson said.
Jackson called on the All Saints congregation – which numbered 1,300 and packed the church, parish hall, and outdoor quadrangle – “to build bridges, to care, to reach out… to create a new California.
“Pasadena and Watts, lock arms and make a new America,” Jackson urged.
All Saints was Jackson’s third stop on a busy Sunday. He started the day at a South Los Angeles church and also addressed a gathering of Korean merchants before arriving in Pasadena.
Among the powerful stories Jackson wove into his 45-minute sermon was the account of a 6’8”-tall basketball star who accepted a scholarship at the only college that would also give full financial aid to his twin sister, a dwarf.
Building on this image, Jackson encouraged people with resourced and skills “to bring along” others who could benefit from teamwork.
Opportunities for education, health care and success in business must be extended equally to all persons, Jackson told parishioners and a cadre of local and international news reporters.
As Los Angeles rebuilds, Jackson called on Southern Californians to learn from Japanese successes.
“Why are the Japanese strong?” Jackson asked. “Because they educated their children. While they learn seven languages, we preach English-only.
“The Japanese built a bullet train. We could build a bullet train from New York to Los Angeles… and put Americans back to work,” Jackson said, drawing applause from the congregation.
“Don’t adjust to the darkness,” Jackson urged. “It’s time for healing.
Church musters huge relief effort
As Jackson, Rainbow Coalition leader and two-time presidential candidate, preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan, All Saints parishioners worked outside the church to load a caravan of trucks – including some large U-hauls rented for the task – to take food to church distribution sites in hard-hit areas of Los Angeles.
All morning a stream of cars stopped along Euclid Avenue as motorists unloaded bag after bag of non-perishable food and sundries, which are still being collected by the parish.
Morning plate offerings exceeding $30,000 were designated for riot relief efforts.
Food collected on May 3 was transported to First Praises of Zion Church, Second Baptist Church, Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church, Holman United Methodist Church, and Lynwood United Methodist Church.