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‘The whole truth is Dr. King was a proud and unapologetic Black man’

Ayanna Pressley

The following are excerpts of U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s remarks at an event hosted by Boston University and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Epsilon Gamma Lambda Chapter.

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 Dr. King was a proud and unapologetic Black man … 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, 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 reminder that gains are not guarantees.

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.

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

In the last three years in Congress, 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.

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.

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.