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January 16, 2022

Rep. Pressley’s Remarks on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday

“The whole truth is a Dr. King was a proud and unapologetic Black man, a prophetic preacher and radical dreamer with a bold vision and desire for revolutionary change.”

Video (YouTube)

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) delivered remarks on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday at an event hosted by Boston University and the Epsilon Gamma Lambda Chapter Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. In her remarks, Rep. Pressley discussed Dr. King’s full and true legacy and reminded us that we are still in the Civil Rights Movement.

A full transcript of her remarks is below and video is available here.

Transcript: Rep. Pressley’s Remarks on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday
January 15, 2022

Good afternoon, everyone. I pray that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe and remain as such.

Although I desperately wish that we could be together in person in the warm embrace of the Beloved Community, I am honored to join in virtual community with the Boston Alphas for your annual MLK event and to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and lessons with the fraternity he was a proud member of, hosted at his alma mater within the Howard Thurman Center and on his actual birthday, incredible, truly.

The Boston graduate chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity has a long history of being servants of all in Boston. From U.S. Senator Edward Brooke, personal hero of mine, to State Senator Royal Bolling, from Mel King, to Melvin Miller. And I know that it is the same spirit of service to others, and advocacy from this organization that encouraged a young 23 year old Martin to become a member of this fraternity during this time here in Boston.

We know Dr. King as a spiritual and moral leader, scholar and thought leader and early architect of the Civil Rights Movement, yet too often, and especially in January, his legacy is reduced to that of a peaceful protester with a dream.

Throughout this weekend of national observance and in floor speeches from many of my colleagues across the aisle, excerpts from “I Have A Dream” will be weaponized, perverted to justify legislated white supremacy. When the whole truth is a Dr. King was a proud and unapologetic Black man and Alpha Man, a prophetic preacher and radical dreamer with a bold vision and desire for revolutionary change.

In word and deed, he sought to affirm that Black Lives Matter. He was a disruptive movement builder. Disruptive because he sought to upend the legislated status quo to reverse the hurt and harms of policy violence denying Black Americans our full rights and freedoms.

Dr. King’s vision was a radical one, considered bold for the times and perhaps audacious by many still today, especially given recent events. His vision was a radical one considered bold for the times, including full inclusion, equity, a redistribution of wealth and resources, and voting rights.

What a damning commentary on the state of our country, on the deficit of political will and courage, that this vision has yet to be fully realized.

And the legislative strides we’ve made, thanks to Dr. King and many more, remain daily under attack. A consequential reality and devastating reminder that gains are not guarantees.

Gains are not guarantees when inertia, inaction and insurrection thrive.

Gains are not guarantees when the white moderate is complicit and white supremacy emboldened.

Gains are not guarantees when today’s boycotts are short lived, faith is shallow, and second-class citizenship is accepted as an inevitability.

Gains are not guarantees when we are merely grateful to be at the table, but unwilling to shake it.

Of course during this weekend, it feels good and as always meaningful and worthwhile to be in community to celebrate progress, to revisit the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, all of them, including those conveniently censored for biased narratives and agendas, to honor this drum major for justice for all people.

This weekend through to Monday, we can and should participate in community and volunteer service, attend a prayer breakfast, Zoom panels, et cetera. Absolutely, and thank you.

But I do believe we are long overdue for some guarantees. Preservation and expansion of the gains made and new gains made real. And the only receipts that matter in this moment, are budgets and policies which codify the value of Black lives, center our humanity, our dignity, invest in our genius, promote the promise of equal access, opportunity, and justice.

Despite what history books may tell us and the news may report, the Civil Rights Movement did not begin and end with Rosa taking a seat, John crossing a bridge and Martin leading a march.

The movement was more than three leaders with three actions and the same must be true today for the movement to survive and for change to occur.

Jim Crow is not behind us when the Senate filibuster is preserved.

Jim Crow is not behind us when states laws have been introduced to disenfranchise our voices, to disenfranchise our votes and to silence our voices.

Jim Crow is not by behind us and we are still in the Civil Rights Movement when Black home ownership is the lowest it’s been in decades.

When Black students bear the burden of a nearly $2 trillion student debt crisis.

When police brutality is the sixth leading cause of death for Black men.

When Black women are still four times more likely to die in childbirth.

When Black Americans make up 13% of the US population and 40% of those behind the wall.

When child care and home care workers, majority comprised of Black women, don’t earn a living wage.

When Black women are paid only 63 cents for every dollar paid to white men.

We are still in the Civil Rights Movement when life expectancy drops by 30 years and household income by $50,000 in a three mile radius from Cambridge to Roxbury, in the Massachusetts 7th.

We are still in the Civil Rights Movement when the George Floyd Justice in Policing, Emmett Till Anti-Lynching, and John Lewis Voting Rights bills are not the law of the land.

I recognize you’ve likely heard these sobering statistics before. I suspect folks are fatigued by this repetition. But you should be much more weary about having to live in these stark disparities.

Earlier I spoke of the erasure of core components of Dr. King’s message, vision and deeds. I should add that erasure or revisionist history has been true for the role that Coretta played in his life and in the movement as well.

Of course, the two first met here in Boston, a source of sentimental pride for so many of us. Coretta proved to be a devoted wife, trusted confidant, advisor, effective strategist and activist in her own right.

She challenged the consciousness of the nation and those in elected positions when she said, “I must remind you that starving a child is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence.”

Her words guide and embolden me in my legislative work as every single hardship and social ill that she cited is a policy or budget choice, a violent choice.

I believe in the power of the movement, of the bully pulpit and of the pen.

In the last three years while in Congress, in my role as a member of the House Financial Services Committee and the Oversight and Reform committees, respectively, I’ve introduced 90-plus pieces of legislation, passed several bills, several of those bills out of the House, and many amendments.

Policy is my love language because it is policy that has caused us generational hurt and harm. It is discriminatory, short sighted and draconian policy, which has resulted in decades of racial injustice.

Although no one bill can undo centuries of harm, I’m of the unwavering belief that if we can legislate hurt and harm, we can and we must legislate healing, equity and justice.

Reverend Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign, also a legacy of Dr. King’s, offered in a speech last summer that this period of reckoning demands of us a Reconstruction, a third Reconstruction.

I agree with the good reverend. Another world is possible. We can build it, we can achieve it through sustainable movement and transformative legislation.

Now in order to go forward, we must look back. Dr. King gifted us with a radical dream and a disruptive blueprint for change.

I thank God for this Black man, for this Alpha man. And I thank each and every one of you for your representation of Black excellence and service.

I believe fiercely in the transcendent impact of what we can achieve together. In a word: justice.