‘Three Amigos’ reunite for Juneteenth civil rights discussion, commemoration
July 14, 2020
Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza (second from right), Rabbi Emeritus Samuel Karff of Congregation Beth Israel (second from left) and Reverend William Lawson, Pastor Emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston (at left), speak during “The Dialogue Project: Vital Conversations with our Community - Fighting for Justice, Equality and Respect” on Juneteenth, June 19 at the Interfaith Ministries’ Brigitte & Bashar Kalai Plaza of Respect in Houston. (Photo courtesy of interfaith Ministries)
HOUSTON — Longtime Houston faith and civil rights leaders Rabbi Emeritus Samuel Karff of Congregation Beth Israel, and Reverend William Lawson, Pastor Emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, joined Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza for a frank discussion on justice, equality and respect.
Held on Juneteenth, June 19, a holiday commemorating the ending of slavery in the U.S., the three shared their lengthy experience of working to end injustices and to “respect thy neighbor” as part of the “The Dialogue Project: Vital Conversations with our Community – Fighting for Justice, Equality and Respect” held at the Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston’s (IMGH) Brigitte & Bashar Kalai Plaza of Respect in Houston.
Hosted by IMGH’s Sucre Woodley, the three men shared their history in Houston “marching, preaching, protesting, teaching and influencing altogether for civil rights and all for justice for all.”
Affectionately called the “Three Amigos,” the trio met during a coalition meeting of “Ministers of Houston,” an ecumenical coalition group that sought to unite Houston’s diverse faith leaders and communities. Much of the group’s efforts led to “long-lasting systemic change for good right there as a very early result of this friendship and this relationship” between them, Woodley said.
Archbishop Fiorenza said they had a shared interest “in trying to bring justice for all in our city and our state and our country” and were inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.
“He had a very powerful influence on me as a young priest,” he said. “And because of his eloquence, the passion that he had to try to bring about justice for all that I got really involved in it and decided to march with him in Selma.”
Rev. Lawson and Rabbi Karff attended marches remembering George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minnesota after a white police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during his arrest.
Karff said he was surprised by the diversity of all those calling for justice and change, but also noted it shouldn’t be unusual for the world to unite for justice.
Even with the three’s longtime advocacy for justice, Archbishop Fiorenza called their efforts a “stepping stone.”
“We haven’t completed the walk yet. The journey is still going on, but we’ve made significant progress in the last 20, 30 years or more, but there’s still a lot of social injustice,” he said. “Thank God, we have made some progress. ... But we can’t stop now. We have to keep going.”
He also lauded the efforts of young people, many who turned out to protest police brutality and racism.
“[Young people] understand better than my generation that that was wrong back then and it would be wrong now, and they want to do something to make sure that we live up to our ideals, and what we profess to be as people that show love and equality to all people, regardless of their race, their gender, or their religion,” Archbishop Fiorenza said.
He also encouraged the Church to be an active voice against racism.
“For the religious community to remain silent at this pivotal moment is a violation of their belief,” Archbishop Fiorenza said. “If religious people are true to their own beliefs, then this pivotal moment will truly be a moment of great, great progress.”
For more than 50 years, IMGH has united people of all faiths to provide services to citizens of the Greater Houston area. For more information, visit www.imgh.org.