My friends, as you may know, on weekends, when Congress is not in session, I travel back home to the Central Coast.
But one weekend I had the opportunity to make an extraordinary trip far from our home here in California. I joined dozens of my colleagues on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, Alabama.
I will never forget standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This, of course, was the site of "Bloody Sunday," where freedom marchers led by Hosea Williams and my colleague John Lewis were brutally beaten.
Of course, two weeks later Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led 25,000 people on the unforgettable march from Selma to Montgomery, and the history of our nation changed forever.
Today we honor the memory of an American who changed history. We honor a man who changed the lives of millions of people he would never know.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his life—and indeed gave his life—to healing the most terrible wounds in our society.
Today, all over the nation, we pause to recall Dr. King's heroic efforts to right the wrongs of intolerance, hatred, segregation, and racial oppression. Today, we pause to recall Dr. King's commitment to human rights, freedom, and democracy in every corner of the globe. Today, we pause to recall a man who preached the word of God and taught us that loving God means loving our fellow men and women.
In the thirty-five years since Dr. King was taken from us, we have made such great strides to fulfill his dream. From civil rights at home to human rights abroad, we have made important progress.
But today, as we celebrate the successes that Dr. King would have welcomed, we must also recommit ourselves to continuing his legacy. This is especially true at this unique and challenging moment in our history.
Each day we—as individuals and as a nation—are confronted with new challenges and new opportunities to renew our commitment to the principles that Dr. King stood for, indeed the principles he died for.
Witness the discussion that has consumed our nation these past weeks about affirmative action at colleges and universities. I believe strongly that we must have policies that will ensure equal access to educational and professional opportunities for all Americans.
A diverse student body contributes to the educational experience of all students, and if we are serious about our commitment to that diversity we must account for the different roads that some students have traveled to get to that classroom.
The same is true for the ability of everyone in our community to start their own business. We must continue to strive to make small business loans more accessible to women and minorities. Nothing is more empowering than having the tools you need to undertake your own venture. It can transform individual lives, and with it, our entire community benefits.
But there is more to be done, and today we reaffirm our commitment to these goals in Dr. King's memory. There is more to be done to ensure that all of our children—no matter what their color or national origin—receive a good education and quality health care. There is more to be done to ensure that guns are taken out of our schools and our streets. There is more to be done to ensure the dignity of our senior citizens. There is more to be done to ensure that poverty and hunger no longer afflict so many nations around the world.
Let me conclude by quoting from Dr. King's very last speech. Most Americans remember his ringing phrase; "I've been to the Mountaintop." But in that same speech, he charged his listeners with a challenge that is just as relevant today. Dr. King said,
"Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you today."
Thank you very much.