CHICAGO — A growing group of religious leaders are joining activists calling for a boycott of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Friday morning interfaith breakfast honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Held every year on King's birthday since 1986, during Harold Washington's administration, the invitation-only breakfast is billed as an opportunity for civic and spiritual leaders "to honor the life of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to reflect on his accomplishments."
But this year, as Emanuel faces intensifying political pressure stemming from the city's handling of high-profile police shootings, some leaders are pushing clergy to publicly decline their invitations.
On Monday, at a press conference announcing a fresh round of protests pushing for the mayor's resignation, Rev. Gregory Livingston said accepting an invitation to the event amounts to "branding yourself as a traitor and a sell-out, who cares more about profit than people."
After Livingston leads an early-morning protest called "Black Wall Street" outside the Chicago Board of Trade Friday, he said a chartered bus will bring activists to the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., where the breakfast is scheduled to take place. There, he said, demonstrators will link arms "in the spirit of Dr. King" to prevent visitors from entering the building.
"The tradition of Dr. King is not just a holiday, or a birthday celebration," Livingston told reporters Thursday evening. "The tradition of Dr. King is going up against governors like George Wallace and facing down fire hoses and police dogs. So if you think we're not honoring Dr. King by protesting against injustice, you have the wrong Dr. King in your mind."
Anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman added that it was incumbent upon everyone, not just black leaders or clergy, to show solidarity with the protesters.
"Mayor Rahm Emanuel should be sitting by himself at that breakfast tomorrow," Hardiman said. "Not a single white leader, black leader, Hispanic leader or Asian-American leader should be there by his side. This shouldn't be looked at as just a black issue. This is the whole city's issue."
So far, a substantial number of clergy members appear to have answered the activists' call.
Rev. Ira Acree, of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, said he planned to reject his invitation because "if Dr. King was alive, he would not be welcome, nor would he attend," he told the Chicago Tribune.
"Considering the conspiracy, considering the concealment of evidence, considering the cover-up and the toxicity of the corruption of this mayor's administration, it would be a shame for us as ministers to be there and provide for Mayor Emanuel the political cover that he would desire," he added.
Bishop Larry Trotter, of the Sweet Holy Spirit Church in South Chicago, told the Tribune he'd put together a group of more than 50 pastors who pledged to boycott the breakfast.
Rev. Michael Pfleger, the outspoken leader of the Ark of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, also said he wouldn't attend, but not directly out of opposition to Emanuel.
"I am neither PRO nor CON the proposed Boycott..." Pfleger wrote in a Wednesday Facebook post. "I am not going because i decided over a year ago i will no longer participate in any events named after Dr. King that have NOTHING to do with his agenda. King was my mentor and I'm tired of having him pimped!!!!"
Responding to news of boycott, longtime mayoral ally Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) lashed out at activists whom she said were misplacing their anger.
"Everyone wants to make everything about the mayor — no, this is not about him," Austin told WBEZ. "This is about Martin Luther King ... if some of the ministers are boycotting it, then [they] don't stand behind Martin Luther King."
United Negro College Fund president Malcolm Lomax is slated to be the keynote speaker at the event.
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