- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009




On Jan. 18, community leaders and congregants of the New Bethel Baptist Church in the District’s Shaw community celebrated Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy’s 50 years of dedication to civil rights, human dignity, and forging thresholds of opportunity for all. While Rev. Fauntroy’s five decades of service warrant national celebration, his next stage is definitely not one of “retirement,” but of a reinvestment on a global level to the vision that inspired his life’s work.

While best known for his tireless efforts in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s and as the lead organizer of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, Rev. Fauntroy worked with equal dedication in pioneering efforts behind the scenes. As the District’s representative in Congress for 10 terms, he crafted and fought for landmark empowerment legislation, including home-rule measures in the District. With HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, he worked across party lines to allow public housing residents to manage and own their homes. He has played a leading role in defending traditional marriage in national policy, knowing all too well the link between fatherless children and the spiral of youth violence.

It was fitting that Rev. Fauntroy stepped down from his local pulpit and into a new international role at the onset of the Obama presidency. The new president invited an inaugural prayer by another elder of the civil-rights movement, Dr. Joseph Lowery, and humbly acknowledged those who, with Dr. King, dedicated their lives to establishing voting rights and civil freedoms in our nation.

Now these two moral giants have joined forces in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Council of Elders to lead an emerging “Joshua generation” to champion faith-based remedies to serious societal and health challenges faced by Africa. Important strides have already been made to accomplish this vision. In August on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Rev. Fauntroy, Dr. Lowery, and Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, founder of the Global Peace Festival and News World Communications chairman, joined to call for a new international alliance of interfaith service to address poverty and crisis situations throughout the world. That interfaith commitment to service and cooperation by delegations of key Christian and Middle East Jewish and Muslim leaders was hailed by newscasters as a path-breaking first. The massive event initiated a new “global peace corps” that joined forces with the Points of Light Institute to engender a “Million Acts of Service and Kindness.” A companion Global Peace Festival in Kenya, hosted by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, attracted thousands of youths, who cleaned the trash-clogged Nairobi River and forged cultural bridges across tribes. The effort was credited by Mr. Odinga in helping to heal the wounds of tribal conflict that flared up after last year’s elections. A follow-up Africa Young Leaders Summit will be convened in Nairobi in March.

The power and potential of interfaith cooperation has also been evidenced in successful efforts that Rev. Fauntroy and Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders have engaged in throughout the past five years to engender understanding and peace in such crisis areas as Gaza and the West Bank. In those efforts, 40 Middle East Peace Initiative interfaith delegations engendered dramatic transformation of heart among the top Islamic judges of the Shariah Courts of Palestine and Israeli Knesset members, and galvanized grassroots forces for nonviolence and youth service. The potential of this effective “track two” grassroots civic and faith-based diplomacy has special import for the recent crisis in Gaza, where it would fortify diplomatic outreach by the Obama administration and the calls for interfaith action by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in the UN General Assembly.

The deep wells of moral authority, compassion and proven skills that Rev. Fauntroy and other interfaith leaders bring to the challenges we face as a country in serving Africa’s cities and villages and calming Middle East hot spots can give substance to President Obama’s timely Inaugural call to extend our nation’s hand of goodwill across developing nations and the Muslim world.

David Caprara is co-chairman of the Global Peace Festival USA and former director of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and VISTA at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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