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January 15, 2024

VIDEO: Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s Remarks at Boston’s 54th Annual MLK Memorial Breakfast

Pressley Discusses King’s Radical Vision, Transformative Power of Education

“Martin deserved to grow old. Today… we affirm that his life mattered and the love letter he sent to future generations is embodied in the young people we salute today.”

Video (YouTube)

BOSTON — Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) delivered remarks at the 54th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Boston, titled Keeping the Promise of Democracy. In her remarks, Rep. Pressley discussed Dr. King’s radical vision for revolutionary change, his belief in the transformative power of education, and how relevant his words are to the fights we find ourselves in today.

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

Transcript: Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s Remarks at Boston’s 54th Annual MLK Memorial Breakfast
Boston Convention and Exhibition Center
January 15, 2024

Good morning! And indeed it is a good morning.

Y’all do look good. We never look like what we’ve been through. 

It is a good morning to break bread with you once again and to be in beloved community, especially on this day, in the City of Boston that played such a formidable role in shaping the leadership and informing the movement led by Martin and Coretta.

As child I was confirmed in the Methodist church and baptized in the Baptist church, which means I am doubly blessed so I can be tempted to go twice as long. But today, I will try and err towards my Methodist roots.

Thank you to the two dedicated faith houses, St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, Pastor Jay and Attorney Dilday, your members, and the many volunteers who have preserved this 50-year annual tradition of the Martin Luther Kind Jr. Memorial Breakfast.

And of course, as someone who was a hospitality staff worker for six years, thank you to our banquet wait staff.

Now I’ve been asked to celebrate the scholastic achievement of this year’s recipients and to speak a bit on education.

I am especially grateful to have this opportunity at this moment, in our country, when Black student borrowers are disproportionately burdened by the nearly two trillion-dollar crisis and injustice that is student debt.

And when Black scholars and administrators are under attack, DEI defunded, Black history erased — which is American history. And democracy being dismantled in plain view. 

You know, people very often will be laudatory about the fact that Black folks will wait in line for hours to cast a ballot. And that we have out worked and out organized voter suppression.

Resilience — Black resilience — is overrated. It should not be that way. 

All around us we have sobering evidence that gains are not guaranteed. 

We need to reflect on our past, revisit King’s blueprint for radical change, and fortify ourselves for the urgent fights ahead. 

This is no easy task, but it is an imperative for us all. 

I’m grateful for the leadership and partnership of my colleagues at every level. In so many ways, we continue to be pace-setters for our nation.

What better way to celebrate and to honor, Dr. King then to honor these young people, and in doing so we honor their families — their first teachers, who prayed for them, who poured into them, who set high expectations for them.

And we honor our educators too. 

Thank you to all of the educators and administrators in this room from pre k to college.

Indeed, Black Educators Matter. 

These young scholars are truly a manifestation of King’s radical dream and also of his scholarly example. 

While a junior at Morehouse College, young Martin authored an essay titled, “The Purpose of Education.” 

Martin reflected on the dual purpose of education: to teach us to “think critically and intensively,” and warned that “the most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

Our recipients today honor Dr. King’s full definition of education, “intelligence plus character.”

Young people, as a nation we sorely need the depth and breadth of your intelligence, character, and also your clarity. 

As someone who is approaching 50 years of age, I can attest we need your stamina, your innovation, and we all — young and old — need to summon our discipline, because boycotts are short lived, faith is shallow, white supremacy emboldened, and some folks are more concerned with having a seat at the table than shaking it.

King went on to say in his Morehouse essay, that, “the true function of education is to enable one to distinguish, the true from the false, the real from the unreal, fact from fiction.”

I don’t have to tell any of you that we need these young truth tellers, especially right now, when there are so called leaders among us who deny election results, assert the Civil War was not about slavery, and ignorant enough to affirm that the enslavement of Africans was a workforce development program.

King understood that education is not merely about acquiring knowledge but also about fostering the kind of thinking that empowers individuals to challenge injustice, question the status quo, and to build a better future.

It’s why he put his body on the line alongside so many of you, time and again in the fight to desegregate our schools, both as a means to dismantle institutionalized racism and to ensure that every Black child have equal access to a quality education and the opportunities that come with it.

He understood clearly the role of education in the broader fight for our liberation. 

Today’s movement work remains intersectional as do the attacks, at every level, from our far-right and imbalanced Supreme Court dismantling affirmative action, to state legislatures across our country threatening to ban books, which affirm our lived experience, honor Black brilliance and confront white supremacy, to the coordinated, national assault on DEI programs, from the boardroom to the classroom, and a rise in the same political violence that took Dr. King.

Throughout this weekend of national observance, excerpts from King’s speeches will be weaponized, even perverted, to justify legislated white supremacy.

When the truth of the matter is that the real Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a proud and unapologetic Black man, a prophetic preacher, and radical dreamer with a bold vision and desire for revolutionary change, who affirmed in word and deed, despite the selective amnesia of many, that Black Lives Matter.

I thank God for this righteous Black man, violently taken from us at the young age of 39. 

Martin deserved to grow old. Today, on what would have been his 95th birthday, we affirm that his life mattered and the love letter he sent to future generations is embodied in the young people we salute today.

Young people, know that your village loves you. The future is yours to shape. And King’s radical dream yours to reclaim. It is after all, your birthright.