Rev. Hammond Urges Battle Against Poverty Injustice

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

The Rev. Dr. Raymond A. Hammond II, who left a lucrative career as an emergency room physician to save souls as a Boston inner-city pastor, urged guests at the 18th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee Awards Banquet in Lyons Hall on Feb. 9 to forego lives of comfort in order to battle poverty and injustice.

At the dinner, Saya Hillman '00, an English and sociology major, was named winner of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship.

The presentation was made by University President William P. Leahy, SJ, who called for a renewed commitment to King's legacy during the Lenten season.

"All of us can keep the spirit and values of Dr. King alive if we reflect on what we do and how we act," he said, "and if we recommit ourselves to lives of generosity, integrity and peace."

Also honored at the dinner were Prof. Andrew Bunie (History) and College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Carol Hurd Green, who received awards for long and devoted service as advisors to students.
University President William P. Leahy, SJ, MLK Scholarship winner Saya Hillman, and speaker Rev. Dr. Raymond Hammond at the MLK Memorial Committee Awards Banquet. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Rev. Hammond, dubbed by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino a "hero of the neighborhoods" for his work against gang violence and drug abuse, urged listeners to reject lives of ease in order to "minister to those who have been broken by life.

"I put that challenge to myself," said Rev. Hammond, a Philadelphia minister's son and Harvard Medical School graduate, "because I am a child of privilege - as are the rest of the people in this room, and as was Martin Luther King."

King could have led a "quiet life of prestige" as a Baptist minister, he said, but instead chose to commit himself to the hard work of healing America's racial divide.

"What I admire most about Dr. King was that he decided to use that privilege, that intellect, that skill, that charisma, to benefit those who had the least going for them," Rev. Hammond said.

"Dr. King called America - and all of humanity - to task for failing to live up to its ideals. His was a life that made a difference, whether for sharecroppers ... or African freedom-fighters ... or those standing before the shattered remains of the Berlin Wall singing 'We Shall Overcome.'"

Rev. Hammond is pastor of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain and chairman of the Ten Point Coalition, a group of Christian clergy and lay leaders working to better the lives of African-American and Latino youth in the city.

Were Martin Luther King alive today, said Rev. Hammond, he would be "amazed" at the progress that has been made on civil rights, at the upward mobility many black Americans have enjoyed, and at the sweeping influence black culture has had on music, fashion and other aspects of American life.

But King would be "appalled," Rev. Hammond continued, at the entrenched ills that continue to plague the nation's urban poor, including illegitimacy, drug abuse and the proliferation of violence that has made homicide the number-one killer of young African-American men today.

"More black men have been killed by guns than in all the lynchings in American history," Rev. Hammond said. "Who will reach out to the youth with his hat on backwards, the pants way down low, and the gun at the rear? What does faith mean in an age of fear?"

He said the Ten Point Coalition has been inspired in its work by the voices of urban families asking "help to keep their sons alive, and their daughters from growing old before their time.

"Putting our community back together will require all the commitment and sacrifice required by the civil rights movement," Rev. Hammond said.

"Where do we go from here? We can curse the darkness - or we can let new light shine through us."

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