Press Release

Prepared Remarks Of Senator Gillibrand: Commemorating The Legacy Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jan 18, 2010

New York, NY – Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand delivered the following remarks in New York City to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

I am thankful for the Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network.  You are doing important work bringing voice to people and communities who are underserved.

I am so thankful to be here to honor the memory, the life, and the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King. 

As we honor Dr. King today, we must look at ways to continue his fight, to tackle issues of systemic injustice, and to remove callous indifference to the poor.

Today we also focus our hope and prayers, love and support to the people of Haiti and their families and friends here in our country.  For all those who still don’t know… still haven’t heard about their loved ones, I am doing everything I can to bring relief and support to Haiti and Haitian-Americans as well.  My office is helping Haitian Americans here in our state to find out if their loved ones have even survived.

Eighteen of my colleagues in the Senate joined with me in a letter that I sent to President Obama just after the devastating earthquake hit the Capitol of Haiti requesting Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the U.S.  I am so pleased that Friday afternoon the Obama Administration granted this important protected status.  This will allow Haitians in America to continue living and working here without fear for the next 18 months.

As we work now to help the earthquake victims, we must understand that the people of Haiti have been hurting for years. 

We’ve seen the horrifying images that the cameras have captured on television.  When they turn the cameras off, we must make sure we don’t turn our concern off as well.  When the camera crews have left, we must not leave Haiti behind again.  

In the words of Dr. King: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Lower Ninth Ward, but the community had been ravaged by poverty without attention for years before that.  The levies may have failed that week, but our government had failed them for years.  Just like Katrina, the devastation in Haiti did not happen in a day. 

We must make sure that in places across our country like the Lower Ninth Ward and around the world in places like Haiti, we do not wait for a natural disaster to focus our attention. 

Dr. King worked to open society’s closed eye to the poor… and so must we.  He understood that the least among us should be at the top of our priority list – not the bottom. 

The truth is in plain sight, but it is shrouded in silence.  Some just label them as the “poor” – not acknowledging lives blighted by poverty, surrounded by environmental degradation, held back by bad schools, stricken by crime, shut out of jobs, and stripped of a future. 

The challenge, as Dr. King wrote, is “to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” This is my responsibility.  This is your responsibility.  This must be our collective responsibility.

We must tear down the walls that limit opportunity and keep young people of color from achieving their full potential.

At this time of immense hope and possibility, that is best symbolized with Barack Obama as our President, there is still inequity, injustice, and inaction that persist.

We must tear down these walls just like those in Jericho.

As Joshua and the Israelites found a wall blocking their entrance into the Jericho, so have we.

But we learn from Scripture that rather than surrender to despair, they turned to each other and to God and they found hope.  

God instructed them to stand together and march together.

On the seventh day he told them at the sound of the ram, they should speak with one voice… one voice… working in coalition.

To join together to bring down the wall they faced.  And they did. 

When the horn sounded and the community cried out together, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.    

And just as the Jericho’s walls came down — so too can the bitter divisions in our community come down as well.   

  • Walls of chronic unemployment can come down and we can create real economic opportunity in this community.
  • Walls of health care disparities can come down and we can provide affordable health care for every man, woman, and child in this community and every community.
  • Walls of failing schools can come down and we can eradicate achievement gaps. 
  • Walls of violence come down and we can create opportunities for service, for educational, and for our children.
  • And the walls of environmental degradation can come down and we can ensure that our children and families — who have the highest asthma rates I the country — have clean air to breathe.

 The walls can come down.

The walls must come down.

The walls will come down if we all come together just as God commanded the Israelites to do.

So my friends, the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King remind us of the power of country, community, and churches if we come together and work together… we can not only bring down the modern walls of Jericho, we can realize the dream that Dr. King shared with us.

Thank you. Rev. Sharpton.  Thank you friends.  And thank you Dr. King.   God bless you.