Remarks at Martin Luther King Observances

January 23, 2020

Rep. David E. Price

Remarks at Martin Luther King Observances

January 19-20, 2020

Remarks as Delivered

How are you doing?!


What is your mood, your frame of mind, at this annual Martin Luther King birthday observance? I feel a tension, between reassurance, and anxiety, between the familiarity and solidarity we experience at an event such as this, which has become a reliable feature of our landscape in Garner/Durham, and how unsettled we feel about so much that is going on in our community, our county, our world.


That tension is built into the MLK observance. We look back and give thanks for Dr. King and his prophetic challenge to our county and for the fact that so many responded and continue to respond. But we immediately are also called to repentance for how far we have fallen short and to a renewal of our own efforts to make the “beloved community” a reality.


There are always new challenges to that vision—from hundreds of families in Durham displaced from public housing that was supposed to be safe and secure, all the way to threats of a new war in the Middle East. We can’t let these challenges overwhelm us; in fact they should call us to action. For example, a recent report confirmed that while rates of infant survival in NC have improved, black babies are still twice as likely as white babies to die in infancy. And then there is this: infant deaths have declined more steeply, in states that have expanded Medicaid, and so has the gap between black and white infant deaths. Should we need to know any more?


We also honor the leaders among us who have carried Dr. King’s message forward. I think particularly of my colleague, John Lewis—we came to the House together in 1987—and the health challenges he is facing. I think of Congressman Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, whom we lost this past year, far too soon. I think of the words he uttered just five months ago in the wake of another mass shooting.


“I’m a man of faith,” Elijah said, “and I do believe that prayer works. But the American people are begging us for more than thoughts and prayers. They want action. They want it now… Those in the highest levels of government must stop invoking fear, using racist language, and encouraging reprehensible behavior… As a county we must say that enough is enough. That we are done with the hateful rhetoric… done with the mass shootings… done with the white supremacists terrorizing our county…”


So, yes, we receive comfort and strength in the familiar memories and observances of this day, but we leave unsettled, restless, knowing that our community and our county need us, are depending on us. As President Obama admonished us in dedicating the Martin Luther King monument in Washington a decade ago: “Let us keep striving, let us keep struggling; let us keep climbing toward that promised land, a nation and a world that are more fair, more just, and more equal for every single child of God.”