During his keynote address at the Jefferson City NAACP's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Prayer Breakfast, the Rev. Rob Erickson told listeners they were not born too late to participate in the civil rights movement King spearheaded in the 1960s.
"God used many folks then, even as God will use many of us from this day onward to further the causes that Dr. King and others spoke out for, and marched for, and ultimately died for," Erickson said.
Erickson spent his last day as pastor at Jefferson City's First Presbyterian Church addressing more than 100 people at the NAACP event at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church. He has accepted a similar position in Alexandria, Virginia.
He said Asa Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters who helped organize marches in the 1960s, told marchers for jobs and freedom they were the first wave of a movement that would reach into every nook and cranny of the land.
"It turns out that you and I weren't born too late," Erickson said. "We were put here in this little nook, Jefferson City, to be part of the next wave of freedom and equality and justice in America."
He said his path to the nook and to civil rights efforts was unexpected.
When he was about 28, Erickson said, he was working for a consulting firm doing business with the federal government. He thought he was working for the most powerful people in the world.
"I thought, 'With power, you have to have compassion. With power, you have to have justice,'" Erickson said. "I discovered the most powerful in the world is the God that called me to the seminary — and (called me) to speak and to march and to live for freedom and justice."
When a person graduates from the seminary as a Presbyterian, Erickson said, he is required to preach on a passage of the seminary's choosing. The seminary grades the potential pastor on his performance.
That scripture, which says there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free man and no male nor female, but that they are all one in Jesus Christ, struck a nerve with him.
"Tear down the walls that separate us," he pleaded with listeners. "Tear down the barriers that divide us."
Tony Smith, with Jefferson City Area Indivisible, said a large portion of the listeners at the breakfast attend Indivisible meetings. The organization is a group of Mid-Missouri activists working together to oppose "the (President Donald) Trump agenda and to create positive change," according to its website.
Smith said all people can be treated with quality and dignity.
"We can do better than we're doing," he said.
After Monday's event, W.T. Edmondson, a past president of the local NAACP, said Erickson's work getting organizations to collaborate on human rights issues will continue. Now with Faith Voices for Jefferson City, a grassroots faith-based organization working to improve quality of life in Central Missouri, Edmondson said he and others are trying to make sure they put their faith in action.
"We're trying to bring public issues to light," Edmondson said. "Pastor Rob has demonstrated his commitment not only to social justice but to building relationships. I feel hopeful that the good work that Pastor Rob laid out at First Presbyterian will be continued."
In his remarks, Erickson urged listeners to continue doing King's work.
Listeners' challenge, Erickson said, is to be part of the change in Jefferson City that King called for 54 years ago.
"Here we are, in one of those nooks," Erickson said. "And we are still marching. We are still organizing."