“We have our marching orders”

By Jonathan Reckford, Habitat for Humanity International CEO

Editor’s note: Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford was invited to speak during the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Here are the remarks he shared as part of that historic commemoration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

These words from Micah 6:8 stir my heart today just as they did when I first heard my grandmother speak them decades ago. Every time I saw her, she recited this verse and challenged me to be useful.

My outspoken grandmother was Millicent Fenwick, a New Jersey congresswoman who came to politics through the civil rights movement and marched with Leon Sullivan. She considered the Old Testament prophet’s instructions as marching orders — a mandate to fight vigorously against injustice and for equality.

At Habitat for Humanity, our vision is similar to Dr. King’s beloved community: We break down barriers as we build up walls, and we bring people together in an effort to create a world where everyone will have a decent place to live. Since 1976, Habitat has helped more than 3 million people realize their dreams for a better future — because no one should live in poverty housing.

We will not let our hammers or our voices rest until the world believes that safe, decent, affordable housing matters. The reality is that if children don’t live in decent homes, the odds of their staying healthy plummet. If they’re not healthy, they won’t do well in school; without an education, they won’t get decent jobs. Without good jobs, they’ll be unable to care for their families or break the stranglehold of poverty. We cannot abide that.

We must continue the work of those who stood here before us. We must speak out against injustices in our world and respond to the challenge presented by a feisty Northeastern congresswoman and a passionate Southern pastor: “What are you doing for others today?”

We have our marching orders. Seek justice. Love mercy. And in the footsteps of Dr. King, and so many others, may we always walk humbly with our God.