The Rev. Dr. Teresa Danieley is among the honorees at the 44th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Awards Banquet presented by CBTU: Coalition of Black Trade Unionists – Saint Louis Chapter. Danieley, along with Earline Jones – retired CWA Local 6300 member and founding member of CBTU-St. Louis, and John May, retired UAW Local 110 member and founding member of CBTU-St. Louis, are being honored for their contributions in the traditions of Dr. King, for racial and economic justice, labor, & human rights in the St. Louis Metro communities.
While I always celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on both the Federal Holiday near his birthday and on his Feast Day as a Martyr in the Episcopal Church on April 4 – the day of his assassination in 1968 – this year is particularly poignant to me. I am deeply humbled to be receiving the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Awards from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists of St. Louis on MLK Day this coming Monday. I greatly admire the advocacy and service work that CBTU-STL does, particularly agitating the labor movement and people throughout the greater St. Louis area to dismantle racism and racist structures wherever they are found. The Rev. Dr. King is someone I have tried to emulate since I first learned about him as a young child.
While many in the Missouri legislature and white Christian nationalists would have me believe that my white children and I must be shielded from learning about the racist, classist history of the United States, my white family and I have benefited greatly from being taught holistic history that has included and emphasized the experience of Black Americans. As one of the few white children in my elementary school in the Normandy School District in the 1980’s, I was taught history that centered Black perspectives by both Black and white teachers. I believe that we even celebrated Dr. King’s birthday before it was a federal holiday. I rejoice that my own white children have had the opportunity to learn Black history and culture, as well as many immigrant histories and cultures, both formally and informally in their elementary school in St. Louis Public Schools, in which my white children are definitely a racial minority. If it were not for these experiences, my life and the life of my children would be impoverished, narrower and, dare I say, less Christ-like.
Photo above: Danieley’s second grade class at Jefferson Elementary in Normandy, 1984-1985
Like the Holy Scriptures, it seems like these days anyone – including white nationalists – can quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for their own purposes. Since his horrific and tragic assassination on April 4, 1968, we cannot ask Dr. King to clarify his meaning. I tend to rely largely on Dr. Bernice King and The King Center, as the official and familial holder of Dr. King’s legacy, for the “canonical” interpretation of his life and legacy. Bearing that in mind, I do believe that the work that I have done with Missouri Jobs with Justice and as an Episcopal priest is congruent with Dr. King’s preaching and teaching, although I am definitely not as radical or as self-actualized as Dr. King was.
I have been active with Missouri Jobs with Justice as a volunteer since it was St. Louis Jobs with Justice in 2005. I have worked for MOJWJ since August 2017, starting part-time and moving to full-time about a year later. At Missouri Jobs with Justice, we are striving to build an economy and a democracy that works for all Missourians, Black, brown and white, which is clearly in line with the Episcopal Baptismal promises “to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being,” and “to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” In both my paid role as Champions Organizer with Missouri Jobs with Justice and in my appointed role as Missioner for Public Advocacy in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, I use preaching, teaching, organizing and advocating for tangible policies that improve the lives of Missourians to proclaim the Good News of the Reign of God in a way that most Christians in Missouri may not have heard it proclaimed before. My work at MOJWJ is recognized by my bishop, the Rt. Rev. Deon K. Johnson, and the Church Pension Group as my official “Extension of Ministry” – an officially sanctioned ministry outside of a congregation.
While I feel unworthy to receive an award with Dr. King’s name and legacy attached to it, receiving this award from CBTU challenges me to continue to dedicate my life and my ministry to striving for justice and peace, that all human beings might have the dignity and material things necessary to thrive in this life, even as those of us in the Church look to the life to come. Dr. King put his faith to work for justice to a degree that few Americans have ever done, even to the point of putting his life at risk and, ultimately, being killed for proclaiming the equity, justice, and peace that Jesus proclaimed.
To quote Dr. King, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education, and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits (Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964) . . . . God is working in this world, and at this hour, and at this moment. And God grants that we will get on board and start marching with God because we got orders now to break down the bondage and the walls of colonialism, exploitation, and imperialism. To break them down to the point that no man will trample over another man, but that all men will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. And then we will be in Canaan’s freedom land (Sermon, Dexter Ave. Baptist Church, 4/7/57). Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Teresa Danieley, works as the statewide Champions Organizer at Missouri Jobs with Justice and is a proud member of the United Media Guild, TNG-CWA Local 36047. Dr. Danieley has been ordained for over 20 years and serves as the Secretary of the International Episcopal Church’s General Convention Task Force on Imagining a Church Grounded in Social Justice as Christian Ministry, the Missioner for Public Advocacy for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, a Priest Associate at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, St. Louis, the President of the Mann Elementary PTO in St. Louis Public Schools, the President of the Board of Sanctuary in the Ordinary (affordable housing development) and a Clergy Counselor with Faith Aloud. She earned a BA from Yale University, an MPP from the University of Chicago, an MDiv from the General Theological Seminary and a DMin from Eden Theological Seminary. Dr. Danieley and her husband, Jonathan, are raising three children in the City of St. Louis; all three children attend St. Louis Public Schools.