A new generation carries on a proud tradition of civil rights

Kids walking down a sidewalk holding hand painted signs

What does a small elementary school in the San Fernando Valley, our South LA hospital and health system, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have in common? They all came together on January 13th to tie a historic knot of solidarity. 

The Heschel Day School is a small Jewish community day school located nearly 40 miles away from South Los Angeles, in the largely suburban community of Northridge, California. As far away as the school might be from the harsh realities that many MLKCH patients wrestle with, it has a strong reason to care: the school’s namesake, Abraham Joshua Heschel, played an important role in our namesake’s long struggle for civil rights. Rabbi Heschel’s most visible demonstration of this role was his participation in the 54-mile Montgomery to Selma march, carrying the Torah the entire time.

It’s why several dozen Heschel Day elementary and middle school students between the ages of 4 and 13 organized their own Walk-a-Thon on January 13 to honor the memory of Dr King and to express their shared values. Holding up signs featuring the faces and famous slogans of the two faith leaders, the children marched in the street near their school in emulation of Heschel’s own famous walk by Dr. King’s side. The students dedicated the proceeds of the fundraiser to MLK Community Healthcare’s efforts to improve health in South LA—“walking the walk” in every respect.

Dr. Martin Luther King standing with fellow male activists
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Ralph Bunche, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. March 21, 1965. Selma, Alabama, United States. Associated Press.

Heschel was a Jewish theologian and philosopher with a social consciousness that led him to stand side by side with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in all the work for voting rights. It was during the long Montgomery march that Heschel was asked if he had time to pray and famously responded that his “legs were praying.” Considered “one of the truly great men” of his day and a “great prophet” by Dr. King, Heschel articulated to many Jewish Americans and African Americans the notion that they had a responsibility for each other’s liberation and for the plight of all suffering fellow humans around the world. 

More than 50 years later, children honored the Jewish community’s history of solidarity, chanting “our legs are praying” as they marched down Northridge’s White Oak Street. “There’s too much hate and violence in the world,” a red-headed 5th grader named Evelyn said. “We need to let a little love in.”

Heschel Day School has a long commitment to educating their students about big issues. “We want children to care about equality, people’s rights, that everybody has a voice,” said Anthea Canes, director of Judaic studies at the school. “Connecting with and supporting MLK Community Healthcare’s belief that healthcare is a form of social justice is a perfect fit for us.”

At an assembly in the School’s gymnasium, Dyan Sublett, MLK Community Health Foundation President, thanked the children for forging yet another link in that historic chain of support for civil rights. “We have not only the shared history that you are marching for today…but we have a shared determination,” she said. “Thank you for sharing your determination. And thank you for your prayers and your action.”

Stand in solidarity with the students by making a gift to MLK Community Healthcare today.

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