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The challenge of every faith is bringing credibility to its beliefs through action — to change lives through deeds. Faith without works, the Bible tells us, is useless.

We often remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for his moving words and stirring speeches. We remember him for the dream he shared with us from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, his letters from the Birmingham jail, and his unwavering faith that we shall one day reach the promised land. But while one can admire and appreciate the beauty and majesty of his words, what gives them voice and meaning today is how he gave life to his words through his actions.

King spoke to the common man and stood beside them on picket lines. He shook the conscience of a nation and rallied it to his cause through his commitment to nonviolence. Through his actions he helped countless millions of Americans realize their full value, humanity and equality in the eyes of God, while inspiring countless more Americans to dedicate their lives to working towards the same in the eyes of the law.

King touched and transformed the very heart of our nation. It was never the same again.

As the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968, approaches, we should not only reflect on his life and legacy, but also look to the future. More than a commemoration, this anniversary is a call to action for a new generation of community and faith leaders to come make their mark on history. With the I AM 2018 campaign, pastors and congregants in the millions-strong Church of God in Christ have joined with the American Federation of State, County and Muncipal Employees and others to build on this historic moment.

Today more than ever before, we must look head on at the challenges that face our communities and carry forward King’s unfinished work, especially as those on the opposing side would seek to roll back our progress. In April, we will gather at Mason Temple – the site of King’s Mountaintop speech — and launch a voter education and civic engagement program to mobilize turnout for the 2018 elections and take on the issues that face working people. Together, we are energizing a new generation of leaders who, strengthened by their faith and their values, are dedicating themselves in the service of justice for all.

I have served as a faith leader in Detroit since the 1950s. I marched with King down Woodward in 1963 in what was up to then the largest civil rights gathering in history. I helped my community find strength and resolve in the summer of 1967 and worked alongside the late Mayor Coleman Young to bring the community together in the wake of King’s death. I was here throughout the decline of our city and am present at its rebirth. Throughout all this time it has been faith leaders, community leaders, activists and volunteers that have kept our community together, and I know this must be true for the future.

The challenges we face today, from drugs to access to education, housing, nutrition and opportunity are not new or even unique to our city. But by working to cultivate young minds and giving the next generation of leaders from here in our community the tools and knowledge they need to find their own voice, we can bring new ideas and unique solutions to these challenges. We must ensure a new generation is ready to take the reins and continue on this vital work.

Bishop Phillip Aquilla Brooks is first assistant presiding bishop of Church of God in Christ.

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