Rev. Dr. Robert Turner, senior pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church, walked from his church in Baltimore, Md., to the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20. The journey, which Rev. Turner and several other activists took on foot on President’s Day, equaled 40 miles, the same number used for House Resolution 40.
Once passed, HR 40 would establish a presidential commission to study and develop proposals on appropriate forms of reparation and apology for Black Americans. Rev. Turner’s 14-hour walk to the nation’s Capitol not only displayed the depths of his strength and faith but also re-emphasized the critical need for a reparations task force to be created immediately.
Rev. Turner’s journey to the White House started in the early hours of President’s Day. Welcoming him upon his arrival in front of the president’s residence were several representatives from various faith-based direct action groups and civil rights organizations, including the JACL.
JACL Executive Director David Inoue and his son, Akira, were in attendance, joining in the call for immediate presidential action. “There is powerful symbolism in Rev. Turner’s walk of 40 miles for HR 40,” said Inoue. “He and I both have boys of about the same age, and yet our experience of raising our sons will be very different because of the color of our skin.
“It is truly impossible for me to fully understand what it is to walk a mile, let alone 40, in his shoes,” Inoue continued. “It is especially important because of the Japanese American community’s success in achieving redress that we demonstrate our solidarity with the Black community in their fight for reparations. I hope that the 1,000 cranes we brought to the event on behalf of Tsuru for Solidarity and the National Nikkei for Reparations Coalition helped to demonstrate that solidarity and strength of support from our community to the cause. I am also particularly grateful to Jim and Jean Kawano, who folded all the cranes we brought.”
Also present during the event were members of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s team, Garrett Auzenne and Krystal Williams. Williams delivered a powerful statement on behalf of the congresswoman, whose commitment to reparative justice continues to make waves, both on the Hill and at the Administration.
A press release issued by the congresswoman asserted: “There is no more appropriate time than President’s Day during Black History Month to engage the White House on this issue,” attesting that “Pastor Turner brings a message to the White House about the importance of HR 40 to commencing a reckoning about the continuing impact of the legacy of slavery on the African American community and our nation at large.”
In a press statement, Dr. Ron Daniels, convenor of the National African American Reparations Commission and facilitator of the HR-40 Strategy Group, shared the country’s growing interest in organizing and participating in HR 40 walks, thanks to the success of Rev. Turner’s “40 for 40” walks.
Jarrett Smith, a government relations advocate at NETWORK Lobby, a Catholic social justice-based political advocacy organization, also provided his thoughts and reflections on the critical importance of HR 40.
“If someone looks at the transatlantic slave trade, it is impossible to tell the story without including the Catholic Church’s involvement,” said Smith. “This historic story involves a young Portuguese empire that received the Church’s blessing to sell Africans into slavery. This atrocity took place from the 16th century to the 19th century. NETWORK Lobby believes in the dignity and humanity of all of God’s children. The principles of NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda ground our reparations advocacy.”
When asked what Black reparations mean to him and what compels him to be involved, Rev. Turner responded, “Reparations is not only the most significant issue to African Americans but to the soul of America. It involves recognizing, repenting and repairing the harm caused by this nation on the people she has oppressed. While America has exploited several others, Blacks have been marginalized, brutalized and objectified since being kidnapped and brought to this nation all under the color of law. Reparations is what is needed to bring true healing, wholeness and justice to America.”
Bridget Keaveney is the JACL Norman Y. Mineta Fellow. She is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.