The Highest Tribute: Reflection on Justice Thurgood Marshall

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This reflection was shared at the True North Town Hall meeting Changing the Face of Transitional Housing: Moving Toward Solutions at Christ Episcopal Church in Eureka CA on Saturday May 18, 2019. The Town Hall was covered by the North Coast Journal and the Times-Standard.

(Photos by Shaun Walker and Freddie Brewster)

Welcome to our True North Town Hall meeting Changing the Face of Transitional Housing: Moving Toward Solutions. We are proud to be hosting this event because the mission of Christ Episcopal Church Eureka is to glorify God, follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who actually identified as a homeless person (Matt 8:19-20; Luke 9:57-58) and to serve all people through the power of the Holy Spirit.

According to the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Saints and Commemorations, this weekend includes the celebration of the life and witness of the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court: Justice Thurgood Marshall. We Episcopalians commemorate Thurgood Marshall this weekend because May 17th (yesterday) was the day that Marshall, as a lawyer, successfully argued the Brown vs. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court. As a result of this case, the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of public schools across the nation. This landmark decision (made exactly 65 years ago) represents our country’s commitment to its core foundational values of equality and liberty, values that resonate deeply with the fundamental Jewish and Christian teaching that we are all made in God’s image. The Supreme Court ruling also embodies our country’s commitment to dismantle systems of racism and injustice in order to uphold the dignity of every human being.

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Justice Thurgood Marshall said, “It is by recognizing the dignity of our fellow human beings that we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” Justice Marshall grew up an Episcopalian in Baltimore and, throughout his entire life, remained deeply involved with the Episcopal Church, a church that calls its members, at baptism, to make a vow to “strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.” On this 65th anniversary of the Brown vs Board of Education ruling and on this feast day of Justice Thurgood Marshall, I am personally encouraged and inspired by this gathering here in an Episcopal Church (Thurgood Marshall’s church) to respectfully discuss ways that we can uphold our country’s values of justice and equity; and to pay ourselves the highest tribute by respecting the dignity of every human being, specifically by working to ensure that everyone in this beautiful city of Eureka has a safe place to call home. It’s hard for me to imagine a better way to celebrate and honor Justice Thurgood Marshall’s legacy, so thank you. I believe Justice Marshall would also encourage us to seek wisdom from a higher power so I invite us to pray.

Eternal and ever-gracious God, you blessed your servant Thurgood Marshall with exceptional grace and courage to discern and speak the truth: Grant us grace and courage this afternoon to listen respectfully to one another, with open hearts and minds; and to speak our truth as we discern together ways to ensure that everyone in Eureka has a safe place to call home. By doing so, we are respecting the dignity of every human being made in your image and thus paying ourselves and You the highest tribute. In the Name of your Holy Wisdom and Love, we pray. Amen.

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