The last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage was four years ago. Last week’s anniversary ofthat legislation prompted many to push for higher minimum wages around the country in places like FtLauderdale, Seattle and Boston. Here in Kansas City, church activists have been organizing their own fight for higher wages and greater economic opportunity. On Thursday, July 25th in the Washington-Wheatly neighborhood, they held a rally to build support for their cause.
A small gospel combo welcomed visitors to the True Vine Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday evening. Visitors filed in and tapped their toes waiting for the evening’s rally to begin. Sitting in the pews, retired pastor Wallace Hartfield explained what brought him to the rally.
“Jobs.” Hartfield said with a laugh. “Our young men – especially our young men – need jobs to get them off of the streets. And many things will not happen if the guys have jobs.”
Pastor Artist Taylor welcomed an audience of about 60 and started the evening with a prayer. Taylor is head of the True Vine church, which hosted Thursday’s Rally and Community Prayer. The event was organized by Communities Creating Opportunity to bring people together in support of racial and economic justice and more opportunities for lower income Kansas Citians.
Among the speakers was fast food worker Wilma Brown, who took the podium to tell her story of struggles working in the service industry.
Several pastors took turns speaking, and some, like Reverend Herbert Davis, brought the fire of Sunday morning to the podium.
“If we’re gonna make a change that changes young people,” Davis exclaimed, “[It] has got you start with you!”
Critics say that raising the minimum wage would place a crippling burden on employers, especially during troubled economic times. But rallier Norma Reed believes many lower-wage workers suffer unsustainable conditions and now’s the time to act.
“We don’t want it to get any worse,” said Reed. “So now is a good time.”
While the event was planned before the George Zimmerman verdict, his acquittal wasn’t far from the minds of many. Pastor Stevie Wakes said he and his congregation were looking for constructive ways to deal with the anger that the verdict fueled.
“It’s something that many congregations have committed to talk about,” Wakes said. “As something that we need to make sure that we respond in a way that’s gonna bring change.”
Philip Roads drove in from Overland Park to attend the service.
“We’re all concerned after the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman trial,” said Roads. “And it looked like this was a positive thing to do to solve problems that that whole incident pointed out in our society.”
After a leading rallying call, Pastor Taylor took the congregation out in the street to march and sing.
Two-by-two, they headed south down Bellefontaine Street singing the gospel song “Victory Is Mine.”
As the sun began to set, the rally ended with heads bowed as Taylor led a final prayer.
“And now we pray your divine guidance,” Taylor prayed. “As we move forward from this point to making a difference in our community.”
Organizers are planning more events in the next few months to encourage higher wages and more economic opportunity. The next is a march in support of fast food and retail workers at Gillham Park on Tuesday, July 30.