By Congressman Michael Turner
Martin Luther King Day is a holiday full of meaning for generations of Americans of vastly different backgrounds and perspectives. This year, Martin Luther King Day has even more meaning as it was the day before the United States of America inaugurates the first African-American President of the United States. As we pause to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the holiday that marks his birthday and commemorates his life, we are reminded of the enduring impact he has had on all Americans and those committed to freedom, justice and equality. We are all also soon to be shown direct proof of how much progress our nation has made when President-elect Obama takes the Oath of Office on January 20, 2009.
We remember the hope, pride and compassion of a man whose fight for civil rights has become a cornerstone of American values and our way of life. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., exemplifies the power of the American Dream, a dream shared by many around the world. Freedom and equal opportunity are what makes us the most envied and admired country.
Dr. King was a visionary leader whose work transcends generations and crosses cultural barriers. He spoke of a time when people would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Decades after Dr. King’s “Promised Land” speech, he would be pleased by the progress our nation has made but would urge us to continue the march toward the “Promised Land”.
Dr. King’s extraordinary faith lifted us to great heights. He spoke of human progress saying, “every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Those individuals who act unselfishly move the human race forward.
Earlier this month, I welcomed a group of high school students to my office to hear the perspective of a civil rights pioneer who watched Dr. King give his legendary speech and who also would be in attendance at President-elect Obama’s inauguration. Everyone in the room seemed to understand the significance of this moment but no one expressed it quite as well as one of the students. When asked by a reporter what the swearing in of our nation’s first African-American chief executive meant to him he said simply, “It means I can be whatever I want to be when I grow up.”
Just this month, the 111th Congress began session with many new Congressman and Senators and again started to do the people’s business. There are and will continue to be strong disagreements about policies and about what the future of our nation should be. This is as the Founding Fathers intended and is the bedrock of our democracy. There is no disagreement, however, about the importance of Dr. King’s dream or about the significant pride our nation should feel as we watch President-elect Obama take a giant step toward fulfilling its promise. We honored Dr. King, his life, and his legacy on this holiday and on Inauguration Day and we honor his memory and sacrifice by continuing to do the work of all of the American people.