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Faith leaders recognize the challenges of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's unfulfilled dream | Together We Rise

Four faith leaders from San Antonio invoked hope over the challenges of an unaccomplished dream.

SAN ANTONIO — In the hallowed sanctuary of Laurel Heights United Methodist Church, four San Antonio faith leaders agreed to provide perspective on the 'dream' of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As people celebrate the federal holiday honoring the birthday of the slain civil rights icon, the conversations and thoughts about his dream make its annual orbit. Then, what? No more dreaming the very day? 

Four prominent faith leaders can see King's dream at work. But they also recognize the challenges.

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Kemp|Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

"The hearts of men have not changed..."

Kemp leads a historic church on San Antonio's eastside. He is their senior pastor. At his acknowledgment, he's patterned parts of his life after the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King:

"I think Dr. King's dream is multi-factorial. It's not simply one speech or one occasion," Kemp said. "It's the whole idea of looking for freedom for all of mankind, making sure that everyone is included."

But he doesn't think we've achieved the dream King famously spoke of in the march on Washington D.C. in August 1963.

"We're not there," he said. "You and I know that a lot of people are judged or pre-judged by the color of their skin, or the you know, the texture of their hair, or the zip code that they grew up in."

Challenges to the dream:

"One of the biggest challenges we have, I believe, having lived as long as I live now--is teaching our children to respect one another and love one another be on our small social circuits."

Kemp said another challenge is voting.

"We got to make sure that every American citizen is able to vote, and we need to make it easy for them to vote, not make it difficult to vote."


For starters, Kemp believes we need a sense of the divine. He described it as an idea that goes beyond me, myself, and mine.

"I think we have to work toward loving one another," he said. "As simple and as complicated as that may be."

Another solution, according to the pastor, is love. Kemp said many had not gotten past hatred, prejudice.

"The hearts of men have not changed," he said. "We have not had that fundamental, intrinsic change. So we're able to respect one another."

Rev. Wyndee Holbrook |Executive Director, Interfaith San Antonio Alliance

"It takes the effort of recognizing that we're all better off together."

Holbrook has been a member of the Interfaith San Antonio Alliance since 2018. The San Antonio transplant is also a pastor at the Laurel Heights United Methodist Church.

Dr. King:

Holbrook said she is a child of the 60s who remembered hearing Dr. King's words and voice. She can even recall where she was when news broke about his assassination on April 4, 1969. Holbrook describes him as a prominent looming figure whose presence connected people to change, affirmation, and unity.

"Here he was one person, one voice, who said enough," she said. "Things can be different, and I'm going to be part of that change."

Challenges to the dream:

"The more we stay focused on what's best for me, or the not in my backyard mentality, the more we isolate ourselves," Holbrook said.

She believes it's part of the human condition to preserve me and mine first. On the other hand, the biggest challenge is committing to being selfless.

"We don't allow the spirit of the divine to do its good work," she said.

And, Holbrook thinks we've become fixated on the word dream.

"We focus on the word dream. But the dream is of freedom and a freedom that is wrought through the hard work of unity," Holbrook said.


The solutions don't come easy, she said.

"How do we get there? It takes work," Holbrook said. "It takes---effort of recognizing that we're all better off together."

No barrier, she said, should stop us from working with one another.

Rabbi Mara Nathan| Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth-El

"I'm always really drawn to that idea of beloved community."

Nathan is the Senior Rabbi at her synagogue. She said members of the Jewish community have been working to connect with communities of color. Listening. Sharing. Understanding. The congregation led by Nathan and Kemp has been building a relationship for seven years. They share Sabbaths and even do a monthly book club taking on Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The origins of our discontentment.

Dr. King:

"I'm always really drawn to that idea of beloved community," she said. "And the teachings that really emphasize the universalism of the human condition."

King's message, she said, resonates with the Jewish tradition, especially when the civil rights leader started to take on issues that impacted more than the Black community.

"There are so many teachings, and he certainly leans towards progressivism, not just for the Black community," she said. 

Challenges to the dream:

"It makes my heart hurt that, even after all these years, that there's such baked-in racism in our country," Nathan said. "There's an unwillingness on the part of so many people to acknowledge it, and work to try to eradicate it."

The Jewish leader said the United States holds itself as one of the world's most formidable countries but still needs to atone for the past.

"In many ways we are," she said. "But we have so much to work on. So much to own. So much to recognize the sins of our of our past."

Nathan regards San Antonio as a special place that's imperfect and needs work. But she acknowledges local leaders are reckoning with the lack of perfection.


"I think there was a time in the world where certain people felt we were always moving forward in a, you know, in an upward slope," Nathan said. "And we were always getting closer and closer to that peak. I think now, in recent years, it's apparent that it's sometimes two steps forward---one step back."

But she said we shouldn't give up. Her temple has a history of fighting for social justice.

To name a few issues still worthy of a fight, Nathan said we need to recognize inequalities, problems in our schools, and homelessness.

Waheeda Kara | Chairwoman, SOL Interfaith Center |Ismaili Muslim

"Whether you're judged, mocked, laughed at, that doesn't matter. You have to do your part."

Kara remembers coming to America as a refugee at 11. Her father died soon after. She said much of what she saw in this country was culturally confusing. Something as simple as students displaying affection at school. But now, the mother of three who boasts an impressive resume of accomplishment said she feels free in this country. She said, "That's big."

Dr. King:

Bangladesh may not immediately come to mind when thinking about Dr.  King. But for a girl escaping political unrest in the United States, Kara found herself seeking one of King's cornerstones: equality.

"It's what we all want--isn't it?" Kara said. "Don't we all want to feel like an equal? That's where our struggle has been."

Challenges to the dream:

"I think there are many challenges," Kara said. "But I think our biggest challenge is the fear of unknown fear of different cultures, different faith. Fear of being judged."

The community leader believes harm gets caused when people get tunnel vision and see their needs only. 

"And it's only how I see it through my lens," she said. "The other lens doesn't exist."


Kara said she advises people to 'do their part.'

"Whether you're judged, mocked, laughed at, that doesn't matter. You have to do your part."

She said that bringing King's dream to fruition is a responsibility we owe ourselves and our children.

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