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Unity Prayer Luncheon provides poignant reminder to remain awake, active in pursuit of justice

The Rev. Stephen Thorne, director of the Office for Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, delivered the 2018 keynote address at Creighton University's annual Unity Prayer Luncheon during Martin Luther King Jr. Week celebrations.As a nation that used the last half century to make great strides toward stamping out prejudice and inequality, over the past year, the United States has learned it still has many miles to travel before eradicating the scourges of racism and injustice.

The afternoon of Jan. 17 at Creighton University’s annual Unity Prayer Luncheon, part of the University’s weeklong celebration of the life, work and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., several speakers drew attention to the theme of the week that’s based on Dr. King’s 1965 commencement address at Oberlin College, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” by pointing out that silence and hatred jointly serve to beat a craven retreat from Dr. King’s unifying vision.

“My God is a God who speaks,” said the Rev. Stephen Thorne, a priest and director of the Office for Black Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the luncheon’s keynote speaker. “God challenges us to break the silence and to break through anything or anyone who stands in the way of truth and justice. We must be people who stay awake, but also people who break the silence.”

To open the celebration, Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, addressed the gathering by announcing next month’s arrival of Christopher Whitt, PhD, the University’s inaugural vice provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, a declaration that met with thunderous applause.

“Let us not be asleep to the signs in our present day that point to underlying, resurging, and outright blatant prejudice, fear, and hate,” Fr. Hendrickson said. “We look forward to Dr. Whitt’s leadership as we continue to connect Creighton not only with the wider world, but also the neighborhoods in which we live.”

Fr. Hendrickson and Creighton Students Union President Patrick Marta also presented the University’s 2018 Drum Major Award to Omaha City Council President Ben Gray.

Gray, a longtime journalist in Omaha and a champion for many political and social causes, accepted the award by saying that the time remains ripe for change and for people everywhere to embrace justice and equality.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Gray said. “You’ve got to be involved in learning how it works and why it works. As Dr. King said many times, the time is always right to do right.”

Fr. Thorne, also registering on themes from Dr. King’s speech at Oberlin, enumerated four points of reflection: becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, living the truth, getting involved and staying involved, and working without hatred.

“We are all tied together; we are all one family,” he said. “Racism has no place in our hearts. And it’s not just something that you eradicate for the benefit of people of color. It hurts everyone. If we truly live in the light of Dr. King, we must speak the truth, always in love.”

Urging those present to either join or continue the struggle, Fr. Thorne said he saw many in the crowd who have given a lifetime to living out Dr. King’s dream and who remain at the ready to go further.

“The hallmark of the civil rights struggle was the resilience and strength of those who got involved,” he said. “Those who walked, protested, boycotted, not for a couple of days, but for as long as it took.”

And that involvement must, Fr. Thorne reiterated, come from a place of love and devotion to all humanity. Before asking the gathered assembly to rise and join him in a chorus of the civil rights movement anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” Fr. Thorne closed by saying: “Hatred never changes anything. We must walk together in love. We must talk the talk, we must walk the walk. Not just this week, but the week after and the week after that and the week after that, and on and on.”

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Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.