The MLK Day Brotherhood Awards are NewsOne’s annual celebration of five important Americans who are continuing the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. — especially in the realm of interpersonal, cross-racial, and cross-ethnic understanding.
Our honorees are the bridge builders and the nation healers.
CHECK FOR MORE HONOREES AS THEY ARE REVEALED BEFORE MLK DAY HERE.
Name: Dr. Michael L. Pfleger
City of Residence: Chicago
Occupation: Pastor of The Faith Community of Saint Sabina Roman Catholic Church
His Work: Father Pfleger is a fiery priest who is not afraid of taking a passionate stance on issues that have ruffled collars at the Archdiocese. He is a civil rights leader who has championed for those who don’t have a voice like the poor. Father Pfleger has fought powerful figures and corporations without concern for his safety, which was evident when he got arrested for defacing the tobacco and liquor billboards in his South Side neighborhood.
The blond-haired, blue-eyed renegade disciple has used the power of the bully pulpit to tear down social injustices like racism, stomp out the use of illegal guns, discourage violent acts, and get rid of the drug infestations that have plagued his community. Over the last few years, Chicago’s South Side has seen an emergence of new storefronts and better housing for the poor. Father Pfleger was instrumental in transforming his area into one of the largest new single-family home developments in Chicago.
Father Pfleger gained international attention, when he encouraged parishioners to buy time from prostitutes as a means of offering counseling and job-training assistance. The headline-making pastor has adopted three Black boys, gone toe-to-toe with gangsta rappers in his quest to end the violence and disrespect to women, and boycotted shock jock Howard Stern and Jerry Springer for their immoral representations.
Father Pfleger is the man who is best buds with Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, the man who stood by Rev. Jeremiah Wright when the press crucified him and President Barack Obama took two steps back, the man who aided in the Black Panther Movement, the man who hobknobs with popular Marxist intellectual Dr. Cornell West and is a fierce challenge to Chicago’s evils. Yet, in Father Pfleger’s eyes, he’s simply an errand boy for Jesus.
On His Brotherly Walk With Dr. King:
Dr. King believed in challenging the evils and wrongs that were keeping his dream from becoming a reality. He was a voice crying in the wilderness, a lobbyist for the poor and the disenfranchised and this is so important today. The poor in America today feel invisible, almost forgotten and disposable by society, and where are the voices that are crying out about what is wrong and evil in society? You know we have more people in poverty now than we had back in 1968?
Dr. King was a prophetic, inspiring voice and conscience for the poor. The Christian church today has become so silent, mainstream, more of a Fortune 500 company, a fit into society rather than a voice of conscience that speaks to the world. This troubles me greatly. Dr. King even challenged the church to really be the church in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
In everything that I have taken on, in the thread through it all, racism has been at the core of my battles. The genocide against Black and Brown children is not a priority in this country. Why? Because it involves Black and Brown children. Poor education, gangs, violence, guns, race is always at the root of these evils. Racism is alive and well in America. Since President Obama has been elected, racism has truly gotten its second wind.
I have been called a “rabble rouser.” When you raise issues of racism, classism, poverty, or if you bring up issues where the quality of education depends on your zip code, then you are labeled a “rabble rouser.” I am just trying to be faithful to the gospel, true to Christ, a conscience to a society that has lost its conscience. It’s a shame that so many lack the courage to confront wrong whenever they see it, and to not fit in, to not blend in, and to not compromise.
On His Inspiration:
I have spent the last 36 years of my life preaching the gospel and trying to be a voice for the poor. My heroes Martin Luther King, Jr., César Chávez, Dorothy Day, and brothers Daniel and Philip Berregan are all people who fought for civil rights for those who did not have a voice. These are my influences.
I learned about Black history from a Black cook in the church where I grew up. She was also my hero. My sister, who was mentally handicapped, endured such prejudice and hatred and name-calling that I was moved to develop a sensitivity for those who didn’t have a voice.
I was inspired by the work of Black Panthers Mark Clark, Fred Hampton, and Larry Johnson who allowed me to work with them. Even though I was a White man, they gave me an understanding of the care that they were providing for the community and our personal relationship went beyond the hype. These leaders were doing more for the poor than the local churches at the time.
[My] great friends are the Rev. Wright, Minister Farrakhan, and Dr. West. Coretta Scott King was a close and very dear friend of mine and she was just a great woman whom I miss deeply. These people all serve as inspirations for my work.
I became a priest because of a Black baptist minister, Dr. King, whom I became obsessed with back in the ’60s, when I got to see him march for open housing here in Chicago. Although I never met Dr. King personally, I was inspired by the way in which he conducted himself during the march. He was subjected to horrible name-calling, items were thrown at him, yet he remained calm. I had never been exposed to racism in such depth, and upon seeing the march, it was an immediate reality check.
On How We Continue The Work Of Dr. King:
We need to be consistent with Dr. King’s gospel against non-violence as a way of life and call upon society to choose it as a path. We must be committed to continue the call for a war on this poverty that is killing people. Whenever racism raises its head, we should identify it as a societal evil. We should also strive to be successful in changing laws but know that our faith is the ultimate key that is going to change hearts. To emulate Dr. King means confronting anything that gets in the way of individuals from realizing the justice and equality given to them by God and promised in the Constitution.
Favorite MLK Quote:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.