Monday | January 20, 2020

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was born in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, when the country was torn with racial strife. My parents were faced with the signs “Blacks Only” and “Whites Only.” My grandfather picked cotton and never learned how to read, and my mother, his daughter, worked 16-hour days to keep a roof over our head. This is the America that I grew up in, and now I have the honor of serving in the United States Senate. That chance came in no small part because of the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Growing up, my mentor taught me that having a job is a good thing, but creating jobs would be a great thing. After growing up in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, I wanted to create opportunities for those who grew up like I did. Combined with my own childhood experience, Dr. King’s work to combat poverty and to help low-income families were motivating factors for my Opportunity Agenda.

As more than 50 years have gone by since Dr. King’s assassination, it is clear we have made significant progress in our nation. His efforts showed us that we must let civility, fairness, and opportunity drive our resolve for a more perfect union. Dr. King had plenty of opportunity to be angry, and to try and accomplish his goals through division. Yet, he did not. Instead, he attempted to change the nation through non-violent protests, and was rewarded with jail time, racial taunts, and violence. But he knew that we are better together, and never gave up hope.

In his later years, Dr. King took a significant interest in economic equality. Like him, I realize that ensuring every American has the chance to succeed is a key ingredient in building a more perfect union. During my tenure in Congress, I created my Opportunity Agenda to help our most vulnerable Americans and have continued to cultivate my Opportunity Zones legislation to serve the American people in the best way. This legislation allows those who are a little more fortunate to create opportunities for those who are disadvantaged, something Dr. King strived for and dreamed of from a distance.

Today, we stand on the shoulders of great men like Dr. King in our pursuit of a more civil and fair America—an America where one’s race, gender, or zip code do not dictate their opportunity. While we have certainly made progress since the 1960’s, our work is far from over. More than ever, we must throw aside our differences and commit to unity over division. Freedom over oppression. Love over hate.

To quote Dr. King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We all come from different backgrounds and cultures, so naturally there are disagreements between us. But we should be able to discuss our ideas without tearing down one another because of differences in opinions.

May we honor the work that he started, the doors of opportunity he opened, and the message he proclaimed. Let us rejoice and celebrate the amazing legacy of a giant among men, a trailblazer who devoted his life to spreading the true meaning of unity, peace, and the relentless pursuit of brighter days. And let us work together to make sure his message lives on, for a better tomorrow, for all.

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