More than 700 people found it hard to stay in their seats Friday night at the opening rally for Priests for Life’s Pro-Life Freedom Rides in Birmingham, Ala.
“We’ve come to Birmingham to take a ride, the first of many that will criss-cross the country,” Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said during the rally and concert at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center Theater. He said the Freedom Bus that will travel from Birmingham to Atlanta will be “moving to a particular destination: Equal protection for our young brothers and sisters.”
The Pro-Life Freedom Rides pay homage to the courageous Freedom Riders of 1961 who rode buses throughout the South to test the still-divided nation’s new anti-segregation laws. The 21st century rides also open “a new chapter in the pro-life movement,” according to Dr. Alveda King, director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life.
“We are not just like the civil-rights movement,” said Dr. King, the niece of Martin Luther King. “We are the civil rights movement.”
Father Pavone said the new movement aims not only to liberate the unborn, whose “lives are worth nothing under the law,” but also to free parents from “the despair of thinking they have no choice but to abort their children.
“We ride tomorrow and we say, ‘you come to us, we will help you,’ “ Father Pavone said, bringing the crowd to its feet for one of five ovations he would receive in a 10-minute exhortation.
“Father Pavone is sounding more and more like a Baptist preacher all the time,” said Susan Parker of Austin, Texas, who made the 15-hour drive to Birmingham to be part of the first Pro-Life Freedom Ride.
The stage of the theater was crowded with talented singers and well-known leaders in the pro-life and civil rights movements. The memory of Martin Luther King was alive in the room.
“I’m excited to say, we’re standing in the middle of a dream and these are our leaders,” said Bishop Demetrics Roscoe, who, like Dr. Alveda King, remembers the racial hatred that infected the Birmingham of their childhoods.
“Birmingham was the epicenter of the fight for human rights and civil rights,” declared Mayor William Bell Sr., pulling the crowd to its feet again.
With the ride to Atlanta, said Bishop Roscoe, the founder of Living Church Ministries, “God has allowed us to carry the torch back to the dream and to say ‘dream on.’ “
Some of the inspiring words came with a melody, as the audience heard songs composed for the Pro-Life Freedom Rides.
“Every movement needs music,” said Christian composer Jamie Owens Collins as she introduced her song, “The Least of These.”
“We wanted a song that expresses the heart of the movement,” she said. “Pro-lifers are often characterized as harsh, judgmental and hateful, when nothing could be further from the truth. They are speaking the truth, and they are reaching out a hand.”
A woman who took that outstretched hand introduced her 4-month-old son, Prince.
Evelyn showed up last year at Her Choice, a pregnancy resource center in Birmingham, “pretty determined to have an abortion.”
But she changed her mind, she said, after center personnel “embraced me and showed me love” and convinced her that “this wasn’t the end of the story; it was the beginning.”
Just a few months after Prince was born, Evelyn graduated cum laude from the University of Alabama. Now she’s enrolled in the University of Alabama Law School.
“Prince is my heart and I love him so much,” the beaming new mom said. “We should embrace life. Abortion is not the answer.”
The Rev. Stephen Broden, senior pastor of Fair Park Bible Fellowship in Dallas, and a candidate for Congress, spoke forcefully of the way the abortion industry targets the African-American community.
“Eighty percent of Planned Parenthood clinics are within African-American and minority communities,” he said. “We need to push back.”
Before leaving Birmingham Saturday morning, the Freedom Riders – which include not just those on the bus but everyone who supports the mission – will take part in a prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood facility.
After that, Father Pavone said, “we ride, brothers and sisters, because this is a movement that transcends religious denominations, ethnic boundaries and political affiliations. It is not a Republican movement, not a Democratic movement. It is a human rights movement.”
And 700 rose to their feet again.