Whoa! I'll tell you what, that is an introduction second to none. I am so delighted to be here with all of you.
This is the 61st Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner. I remember very well when my husband attended this event back in 2000, the final year of his presidency, Dr. Anthony. He came home, he could not stop talking about it. He said, "They call it a dinner but let me tell you, it is so much more than a dinner."
I saw that for myself four years later when I joined you as a Senator representing New York. And I'm grateful to be invited back because, yes, this is so much more than a dinner. It's a celebration. It's a revival. It's a giant community meeting with people from all over the world. It's a movement. And you're right, it only happens in one place: right here in Detroit, Michigan.
And I loved Reverend Anthony's words for what does happen here every year, not just this dinner but a weekend-long issue-tainment. It's not just entertainment. It's not just talking about issues. It's both. I think America could use a little issue-tainment because there's so much we need to talk with each other about.
We've got to figure out how we're going to work together, like you had all those young people come in here and march around, literally representing their ancestry from every place in the world. I'd like to bottle that spirit. Because if we can enjoy ourselves while we are trying to roll up our sleeves and work together and keep going for our communities and our country, we will be all the better off.
So I want to thank the Freedom Fund dancers and the great speakers for their magnificent interpretation of Langston Hughes's poem, "Let America Be America Again." They were wonderful. Thank you for sharing that with all of us.
I'm delighted to be here with so many distinguished elected leaders, clergy members, business and union leaders and so many people from not just Detroit, not just Michigan, but literally across our country. I want to thank all the elected officials. I'm particularly pleased to have this chance also to congratulate all of the award winners, starting with Congressman Clyburn, who is a deserving recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. And I want to also recognize Senator Goeff Hansen for his award this evening; Mary Sheffield; Ivy Bailey; Shaka Senghor; and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Jefferson. These are extraordinary Americans who deserve the recognition that you have given to them.
I got to admit, though, after that introduction in that typical low-key style—I'm a little bit worried I am going to shirk. Because I've got to say, you've got me all worked up about what we can do together based on […]. And I want to start where the Langston Hughes poem took us. I appreciate the chance to hear that poem with new ears. I've read it many times. But as with all great works, there's always something new to discover.
And for me, what stands out tonight is that line right at the start. "Let America be that great, strong land of love." That is more than poetry, my friends, that's a prayer. It's one I hope we all try to carry in our hearts every day, especially in this wild political season.
This election represents such a critical choice for America. Yes, of course, it's a choice between different candidates, different parties, different platforms, and visions for America's future. But I think it's also a choice about something even more fundamental. It's about unity versus division, compassion versus selfishness, and love versus hate. The stakes don't get much higher than that.
So we've got to do everything we can to convince Americans to make the right choice. America has come a long way over the past eight years and I don't think President Obama gets the credit he deserves for everything he's done to […] economy and make life better for American families.
And no one knows that better than Detroit. Look at what's happening across this great city. In Midtown and Eastern Market, Southwest Detroit, buses are running, new businesses are opening, families are moving in. There's a palpable feeling of pride and progress, Mayor. And meanwhile, the auto industry just had its best year ever. I think it was a pretty good investment America made in saving the auto industry and giving the auto companies, the UAW and the autoworkers a chance to show that Americans can compete and win. Innovation is on the rise across Michigan—the clean energy sector, the defense corridor and so much else.
So day by day and week by week, the people of Detroit and Michigan are doing what you've always done, making and designing things that America needs and the world wants. But we can't be satisfied until the economic revitalization we're seeing in some of Detroit's neighborhoods is felt in all of Detroit's neighborhoods.
We can't be satisfied until every parent has a good-paying job and every grandparent has a secure retirement. We can't be satisfied until all of Detroit's children are learning in good schools with good teachers in every classroom and no crumbling ceilings or mold or rats scurrying across the floor. And we can't be satisfied until all of Michigan's families have clean water to drink and bathe in.
We know what happened in Flint is unacceptable. We've got to make sure that kind of disregard for the lives of children and families is never allowed to happen anywhere else ever again. I'm grateful to Mayor Weaver and the leaders in Flint for their leadership, their shining that bright light. We're working together to make sure America can't ignore the families of Flint and to put young people to work helping distribute […] broken pipes. And President Obama's visit this week will help to bring even greater attention to what is needed.
I've said this many times in many places. There are too many Flints in America. Places where the water that children are drinking is not safe, where they air they breathe is not clean. We cannot get distracted, not until all of our children have what they deserve in every community across our country that has been left out and left behind.
Now, these are challenges of politics and policy, of course. But they really all do come down to our hearts. Do we believe that all of our kids are worthy of the best we have to offer. Do we believe that all Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect? Or do we think that some children are less worthy, some families less valuable, some people less than because of their race, religion, income, gender, identity or some other ugly excuse?
In other words, do we want America to be a place where, as Langston Hughes put it, equality is in the air we breathe? Or should we hold fast to what he called that same old stupid plan of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak?
Well, I believe—and I think everyone here at this dinner believes—it's time we put that same old plan to rest once and for all. That is how we will let America be America again.
I'm running for president because I want to knock down all the barriers holding Americans back—barriers of poverty and injustice, of unequal access to health care and education, unequal treatment under the law, unequal inclusion in our democracy. Let's knock them all down and build ladders of opportunity in their place that all of our people can climb. Let's make it possible for everyone to rise together and share in the promise of America.
And to do that, we need to face up to a painful reality. More than half a century after Rosa Parks sat and Dr. King marched and John Lewis bled, race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. And that is not news to anyone here.
Many of you know that better than I. But I want you to know I get it and I see it. And it's important we have this conversation.
For many white Americans, it's tempting to believe that systemic racism is largely behind us. After all, that would leave us with a whole lot less work to do, wouldn't it? But anyone asking for your vote has a responsibility to see things as they actually are, not as we wish them to be.
Something is wrong when the median wealth for black families is a tiny fraction of that for white families. Something is wrong when gun violence is by far the leading cause of death for young […] the next nine leading causes of death combined. Something is wrong when young black kids are arrested for petty crimes while white kids who do the same things aren't. And when black men are far more likely to be stopped by the police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men convicted of the same offenses.
Something is wrong when so many black parents are burying their children. Imagine if white kids were 500 percent more likely to die from asthma than black kids. Imagine if a white baby in parts of this country was twice as likely to die before her first birthday than a black baby. Imagine the outcry […] that would flood in to save those children.
These inequities are wrong, they're immoral, they're un-American, and they have to end. That's why I'm proposing a new comprehensive commitment to equity in opportunity for all communities in America. Real plans to create jobs. Hundreds of billions of dollars in new investments in cities like Detroit, including 20 billion aimed specifically at jobs for young people. Because the unemployment rate is way too high in too many places. We've got to close that gap.
We need to support home ownership. It's always been one of the surest ways for families to build wealth. And we need a real plan […] expanding access to capital to support entrepreneurs and small businesses, especially minority- and women-owned small businesses. They are the fastest growing businesses in America.
And while we're at it, let's finally ensure equal pay for women. Now, that would benefit women across the board, but particularly women of color, and lift up a lot of families.
So making these commitments requires tackling the crisis of unequal access to education. Our schools are more segregated than they were in 1968. We've got to reverse that. It's dangerous. We need a good school with a good teacher in the classroom for every child no matter […] that child lives in.
And we've got to make sure if you want to go to college, you can afford to go to college and not be held back by the lack of funds. I've got a plan so no one would have to borrow a dime to go to a public college or university. And we're going to help the millions of young people pay off the debt they already have.
And I want to give special support to historically black colleges and universities because they've produced some of the finest leaders in American history. They're still doing it today, often against great odds.
So we need to do all of this, and we also need reform—end-to-end reform in our criminal justice system.
The first policy speech I gave in this campaign over a year ago was about criminal justice reform. We have seen the toll on families torn apart by excessive incarceration, children growing up in homes shattered by prison and poverty. Let's get back to that fundamental principle: everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone is respected by the law.
That means not just acknowledging but fixing the crisis of mass incarceration. Let's eliminate the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. Let's end racial profiling. These are things I fought for as a Senator; I will fight for them as president.
We are going to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and create a cradle-to-college pipeline in its place. We're also going to do more to help people […] to society. They need a second chance. They should have the opportunity to get it. Let's ban the box. Let's give people a fair shot at competing for jobs. Let's invest in job training and housing so people trying to do the right thing have a real shot at rebuilding their lives.
And let's return the vote to everyone who has paid his or her debt to society. If America is really a country that believes in second chances, let's start acting like it. And let's end the tragedy of African Americans being killed by incidents involving the police, by learning from police departments doing the right things and applying those lessons across our country. Let's make sure the Justice Department has the resources to hold departments accountable when they get it wrong.
I've had the great privilege of getting to know the Mothers of the Movement who have lost children to gun violence or encounters with the police. I've sat with them. I've listened to them as they've talked about their children and their families. And I've seen how they support each other. Women who would never have met except for the unimaginable happening to them. They are members of a club no one ever wants to join, but they're channeling their grief into action.
They are fighting to make sure other mothers' children don't die like theirs did. If they are willing to turn their mourning into a movement, we can join that movement. Stand with them. Call for common sense reforms to reduce gun violence. Take on the gun lobby. Don't let them continue to not take responsibility for their actions. We've got to end the epidemic of gun violence and make sure that we don't lose any more of our young people.
You know, after the campaign is over and the lights are off, we have got to follow through on all of this. I want you to hold me accountable. I want you to know what I intend to do and then to keep saying, "Well, how are you doing? How are you doing, President? Are we getting it done?" I want to work with your elected officials. I want to work with the clergy. I want to work with business. I want to work with all of you. We are going to tackle these problems.
And we have got to make sure people turn out and vote in order to be able to do that. So let's make sure we get the vote heard and convince people to actually exercise that franchise, to knock down the barriers standing in the way, making it harder for people to vote.
I am very confident that we can come together to make this campaign one that will bring people together, that will unify our country, that will make it possible for us not just to campaign but to govern.
I am not new to these fights. As you heard from Reverend Anthony, I have been doing this for a long time, standing up to injustice, especially on behalf of our kids. That's always been my North Star, ever since I went to work for Marian Wright Edelman at the Children's Defense Fund.
So I know that this is not easy. I know it doesn't happen because we say it, we campaign on it. No politician should show up at election time and say the right things and think that's enough. Anybody asking for a vote should show you what their commitment is and what they will do to right the wrongs that plague our great country.
We've got some candidates in this race who are trying to divide us. We've got some candidates in this race who are stoking hatred and inciting violence. We've got some candidates in this race who are trying to set Americans against one another. We've got some candidates in this race who act as though Americans have no memory. So hold all of us accountable. Ask the hard questions. We deserve leaders who will tear down barriers, not build walls between us.
And we need to be sure that as we go forward in this campaign, we look out mostly for those left out and left behind. I'm asking all Americans to join in this. Systemic racism, intergenerational poverty, gun violence: these aren't somebody else's problems. These are our problems. These aren't urban problems. These are American problems. You prove every day that progress really does take a village. So let's make sure we act on that.
We have a saying in my campaign, "Love trumps hate." And I think that's exactly what we have to do. We have to demonstrate what that poem asked us to do. We have to remember the lessons from scripture. We have to look at our great country. Look at this amazing gathering: people from every background, every race, every religion coming together as one people, one nation.
There is no other place like it in the world. I went to 112 countries as your secretary of state. There is no place like America. Let's not endanger the promise, the potential, the dream of our country by giving in to these voices of hatred. Instead, let us remind ourselves of how far we have come together.
It was a tremendous honor to serve in President Obama's administration. Now America is deciding who will succeed him. The leading Republican contender is the man who led the insidious birther movement to discredit the President's citizenship. And when he was asked in a national television interview to disavow David Duke and other white supremacists who are supporting his campaign, he played coy.
We cannot let Barack Obama's legacy fall into Donald Trump's hands. We can't let all the hard work and progress we have achieved over the last seven and a half years be torn away. We have to move forward together. We have to bring our country together. We have to keep working toward that more perfect union. That mission feels more urgent than ever now that the Obama presidency is coming to a close.
We have been blessed to have this strong, thoughtful leader sitting in the Oval Office, an exceptional First Lady by his side. They have made us proud. They have represented America to the world with style and grace.
And it is up to us to make sure that when they leave the White House, the concerns and priorities they championed, the hopes and dreams that Americans have entrusted to them don't also leave.
So here is my promise to you: If I am fortunate enough to be president, I am going to keep fighting to tear down all those barriers holding back every American. My door will always be open. My administration will look like America. You will always have a friend and a partner in the White House. But I need your help, your wisdom, and your prayers in this campaign—and then every day afterwards.
There will be some difficult days ahead for our country, for this great city. But, as scripture tells us, let us not grow weary doing good for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
And if we need inspiration, we can look to our history. Harriet Tubman is in the news these days. She is finally getting some of the acclaim she so richly deserves. I was proud to help to make her homestead in New York a national treasure to work to support the work that she has done that lives on.
Now, remember, among her many acts of extraordinary courage was leading slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. And she had just one instruction for those entrusted in her care: Keep going. She'd say, "If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going."
So, my friends, let's keep going together. Let's organize and mobilize and make sure that love trumps hate once and for all. Thank you, and God bless you.