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MLK breakfast remarks by Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile embraces MIT President Susan Hockfield at the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast.
Donna Brazile embraces MIT President Susan Hockfield at the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast.
Photo / Donna Coveney

Donna Brazile, political consultant and chair of the Voting Rights Institute, gave the following speech at the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast held Thursday, Feb. 9, in Morss Hall, Walker Memorial. She was introduced by MIT President Susan Hockfield.


Thank you so much, Madame President. Don't you like saying those words, Madame President? I don't know about you, but the polls suggest that we can start practicing that more. I've been introduced by presidents, vice presidents, preachers, but I don't think I've ever been introduced by a neuroscientist. So I am grateful for that introduction. And it's also a great honor to be back here in Boston, in Cambridge. I see the weather hasn't changed much.

You know, we Louisianans experience seasonal changes. We're now entering Marti Gras. And soon after Marti Gras we have crawfish season, and from crawfish season we go into shrimp season, and we end the year with crab season. So you can imagine, I've been stirring up gumbo, jambalaya and anything else I can find these days since it's hard to get my ingredients from home.

I want to bring greetings from my cousin, Margo Randolph. She was a student here. She graduated in 2004. She's now a graduate student at USC. So I want to thank you all for taking care of her, treating her right, and making sure that she still know how to cook gumbo.

My friends, it's always good to be here during Black History Month as we celebrate the achievements of a great people, as well as the triumphs. It's also a great time to remind our fellow citizens that the journey to freedom and equality is one that we must recommit ourselves to each and every day. This is also a sad period as we buried just two days ago a wonderful great American, Coretta Scott King.

Mrs. King once remarked that struggle is a neverending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and you win it in every generation. My friends, we thank God for Coretta Scott King and so many others whose shoulders we have stood on. Her shoulders were sturdy. They were strong. When Martin Luther King died, we looked to Mrs. King for strength, and she never disappointed us. She kept the fire of freedom burning, and she never looked back.

Mrs. King was also a great friend and mentor. I first met her as a college student when she traveled across the country inspiring young people to take their seats at the table. A year after listening to Mrs. King, I arrived in Washington, D.C., to help work on the committee to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national federal holiday. Throughout those long years of organizing at the grassroots level, it was Mrs. King who not only placed her faith in young people to achieve the goal of collecting signatures, organizing events in states and town to pass resolutions. She personally adopted many of us as the new heirs to the legacy of the struggle for civil rights and freedom. She challenged us to build a coalition of conscience. She taught us how to love. She taught us to embrace the good in all people. And most of all, she told us to never forget that weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

Mrs. King inspired me personally, and I can tell you today that I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her leadership and her determination. There were times when, at the age of 22, when I was organizing the 20th anniversary of the historic march on Washington, D.C., Mrs. King would often tell Walter Fauntroy and Ben Hooks and Joe Lowery, and all the other leaders of the civil rights movement, she'd say, "She's yelling, but she can organize and she can work hard, and you know what, we don't have to pay her as much as we pay those guys."

But she said we still have to pay her.

I loved Mrs. King. I loved her spirit and her determination. And the most important thing that we can do now is not just cry and weep and mourn her passing, but to continue her work. I have pledged to help the movement, renew the Voting Rights Act of America. There's no more important civil rights law that was passed than the Voting Rights Act. As you all know, it's set to expire next year. And, oh, do I wish the president would have said something at the funeral, and even in the State of the Union, something that he said to us in private that he personally will work for its renewal. I wish he would have said it publicly so that the American people would be put on notice that we still need the Voting Rights Act in 2006.

I wasn't at the funeral. I'm still Catholic -- 45 minutes and out. I have a hard time sitting for six hours. If I'm telling too much of my business, I'm sorry, it's the truth. I was able to endure the Rosa Parks funeral because I had a little role in helping to organize it and working on making sure that her body was laid to rest, and also the visit to the Capitol at the Rotunda. That was a very special moment for me personally. I've been in presidential motorcades, vice presidential motorcades. I'd never been in a motorcade that a black woman was leading. And, my friends, when I got the call to organize it, I say wow, I'm still surviving, living through the Katrina moment. But they said we need your help and your expertise. And I said OK, I'll do it.

My first responsibility was to organize a caravan that would pick Mrs. Parks' body up at the Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore. I called the governor, he's a Republican but I don't mind, everybody has a toll-free line. And I said, Governor Ehrlich, I need a favor. And he said what? It helps that I came up here for a couple of years because Chip DiPaula, who also was at Harvard that semester, was his chief of staff, so it wasn't hard to get through to the governor. And I said well, I need some of your state police, I also need access to the first terminal at BWI. I mean, look, I was putting in all the requests. And I said while you're at it, can you give me the Maryland Honor Guard? Someone had to carry casket. Southwest had already provided the airline. And, by the way, they did give us more than peanuts, which I love. I said, you are not going to fly black people to Detroit to Montgomery and then to Baltimore on peanuts. We need something.

And so as we got in that motorcade, and the first time in my life, as we drove up BWI, from BWI to Washington, D.C., we came into the nation's capital around the, what I call, the back roads. We went through Southeast Washington, the poorest area in our region. And there, at 7 at night -- a cold winter night -- people were lined up with their children outside to wave good-bye to Rosa Parks. My friends, like Coretta Scott King, we owe so much to so many who spent their lives dedicated to champion freedom and justice and equality for all of us. And it's fitting now that we continue to spread the gospel of peace and love and mercy and justice. There's no need to be solemn where there is so much pain, so much that still divide us in this country.

As many of you know, I am, and always will be a native New Orleanian, and proud of it. I was born, like my other siblings -- all nine of us -- at Charity Hospital. My mother was born at Charity Hospital, my father. My mother died at Charity Hospital. Like many of us, those of who were born there, we were born there because we had no health insurance and we had no money. And when I saw the pictures after spending days and hours warning my family, as I do every hurricane season, my friends, if you ever wanted to practice your faith then you go home during a hurricane season. That is a testament of faith.

See, I'll never forget my childhood. On September 9, 1965 -- I can almost tell you the hour, because it was like a scene out of "The Wizard of Oz," which, by the way, I thought was a scary movie when I was a child. Dorothy ain't had nothin' on me, but I was scared like hell. I said where is Toto? I need him, too.

My friends, Hurricane Betsy destroyed our home and flooded our city and our community. And I'll never forget my grandmother Francis from Mississippi. She would not go. And my daddy, after that house was blowing apart my daddy said, "Mama, you've got to come." He carried us all to the house next door, which seemed to be a lot stronger than our home. And grandma would not leave. She stayed. And she watched out the window.

The next morning when the storm had passed and we walked around to our house looking for our grandma, we feared the worst. But as our faith would tell us, she prayed, she watched, she survived. The only part of the house that was still intact was the room where Grandma sat in her rocking chair.

Now, I tell you, oh yeah, she was a fierce woman. I may be a force, but she was fierce.

When I called my dad and said, "Please go, and check on my brother (he was on his way to Houston)," my dad said, "You know, I'm too old to run from God. I've been in every storm, and this one, this one is no different than the others." Couldn't tell him anything else. What could I say?

I had a credit card. I had cash. In fact, my father had cash. It's all in his walls. Trust me, you ever see anything about money laundering. After Katrina, that's all he did, went back in the wall to get all his money. It all had to be washed. My daddy wouldn't go. And because he's a diabetic, my sister, who's a nurse, and her husband and child, they wanted to stay with him. We have what we call in New Orleans a shotgun, but it's a double shotgun with a camelback. Oh, that's some special architecture. And I hope they rebuild it.

My sister Cheryl said, "I'm not worried, it's going to hit the west bank, not the east bank, so you just don't worry about me, faith." My sister Sheila who lived in an assisted living facility, well, my friends, my dad said she has to stay. They would not evacuate them. Because of state rules we could not pull her out of that facility. And so my sister Lisa who worked at a hospital two shifts, she said she couldn't go because she was on-call. Her two small children were taken and brought to safety in Arkansas by my oldest niece. Jeffrey, her fianc̩, went to go pick up his grandparents. They said, "Take our car, it's much bigger, and you go ahead and you get as many kids as possible off the block and keep going." Jeffrey never saw his grandparents again. They perished in that storm. So many old people in New Orleans gave their keys and their cash, and they said to the young people you go, we lived through this, we can hang.

My friends, it took me six days to get my father out of that storm. Six days, 12 feet of water, no contact. He was down to four slices of bread. And when I finally reached him he was in San Antonio, Texas. I said now, how did you get to Texas? This is a man that I kept begging all throughout the years, please come to Washington, D.C. Too cold. Please go to New York to see your sister. I don't want to go to New York. Couldn't get him to go anywhere. So that night, he told me -- when it was so joyful to hear his voice -- he said, "I left the state now twice, once to Korea, now to San Antonio." He said, "Both times the government picked up the tab, Donna."

Many of my other relatives, like my father, many of them were taken to places unknown. Some of them just wanted to come back home, didn't care what the situation. Today, as I stand before you, my aunts and my uncles, my brothers, my sisters are scattered in eight states in 14 cities. In order to keep up with them and to communicate I have to pull out an Excel sheet because they're still on the run from the worse storm of all, and that's the storm of indifference.

Hurricane Katrina and her equally vicious, nasty cousin, Rita, were equal-opportunity destroyers. They showed us that nature wreaks havoc with impartiality. Hurricane Katrina's dramatic winds destroyed beautiful lakefront homes, golf course mansions, profitable casinos with the same gale force that whipped out shotgun houses, public housing apartments, which some of the poorest Americans called home.
Unfortunately while nature may treat us all equally, Katrina and Rita showed us that society does not. Our country still has enormous problems with racial and economic inequality that are too easily brushed aside when the next news cycle rolls in.

Now, more than ever, we must have a frank conversation about what it means to be poor in America. And what we can do to alleviate the pain and suffering of our citizens who sometimes work two and three minimum wage jobs to makes ends meet. You know, my friends, I have to calculate every time the president of the United States gets up and gives a State of the Union speech. And I look to see how much time is spent on some of the most important topics of the day. The president spent 46 seconds on Katrina and the Gulf Coast. That was less time than was spent introducing him and the applause. One million American citizens dispersed, 80,000 small businesses destroyed, 200,000 homes destroyed, 46 seconds. You know I've called the White House and reported my outrage. Oh, I'm not scared of anybody but God.

And I called Karl Rove. He called me back. I tracked him down all weekend. I don't care about the Super Bowl. I care about Katrina. I know the Steelers are going to win, they're a favorite, that's why I was trying to root for both teams. I said, Karl, you've got to call me back. You can't leave us stuck. And yet, my friends, that's how many of our people feel, they feel stuck, they feel stuck as if they're still back in the eye of the storm. They're stuck in the same neighborhoods where they experienced those storms before. They're stuck sometimes in attics with no ventilation. They feel stuck on rooftops with signs -- when the Air Force One is flying over -- saying help us, bring us water. My sister Lisa who was in a garage said she heard that plane fly over. And she said nobody even dropped water. They drop water everywhere else in the world, but why didn't they give us water? Four days of heat and humidity and no water.

My friends, none of us will ever forget the horrific images from New Orleans, babies dying in their mother's arms from dehydration. Corpses. My daddy counted two, three. He said it was worse than Korea because at night you heard the cries of people. There was nothing you could do with snakes and gators and everything else in the water. He said there was nothing he could do but cry. I never saw my father cry -- after his mother died, or even my mother passed away. He cried when Katrina struck because he felt that he was abandoned.

He gave 18 months in the hills of Korea to save and to defend his country, but yet for four days he could not get anyone to stop to pick him up. Every time I think about Katrina and those hours and days I get upset. And the only reason why I can still smile is because I'm grateful, like many of us from the Gulf Coast, to the American people for your generosity, your kindness, your compassion for taking us in, for sending us clothes, for giving us cash, and for making phone calls after phone calls to check on us to make sure we were OK. Perhaps the most important thing you gave us during that whole time was your prayers, because without those prayers many more would have died. As it stands, over 1,100 Louisianans, 1,300 from the Gulf Coast are known dead, with a thousand more still missing, many elderly, and a lot more children than even the media will tell you.

Now, I'll tell you, there's a lot that's been done, and a lot more that can be done. When I sat with the president on December 7th -- yeah, I sat down with George Bush. It was an interesting affair. I was with Dorothy Height, the National Council of Negro Women, Bruce Gordon, new head of the NAACP, my former Mayor Marc Morial, the National Urban League, Patrick Swygert, the president of Howard University, Debra Lee, who's the president of BET, and Dr. William Shaw, the president of the National Baptist Convention. And so the president had me to his far left, but that was all right. That's pretty much where I stand on the political scale. When my time came I said to the president, I said, "Mr. President, you'll be a hero if you rebuild those levees." After all, they're federal levees.

When I was a little girl, you know, you could tell how much money your family had by where you're born. I was born behind not one but two sets of train tracks, so that was a good indication that we were poor. But I was also born right smack up against the Mississippi River. To this day I worship that river, but I spent most of my time on that levee to see just how high the water would rise before we had to get out, get moving. We lived in a bowl. You ever live in a bowl? It's knowing that to your back is the river and in front of you is that huge, massive lake called Pontchartrain, and on both sides of you, you have a swamp or a ditch. That's the bowl. Every day it rained we had waterfront property.

So, I told the president that he had to build those levees stronger. Look, I've been to Venice, I've been to the Netherlands. I know you can build levees. Don't tell me you can't build levees. But you've got to have the will and you've got to put some money. And for all of you addicted people to all that the president said just recently, I'm probably addicted, too, let me just say this. We give this country so much of our natural resources in Louisiana, our region. All of the petrochemical industries are down there pumping each and every day hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil. And yet when we ask the federal government, just give us a little bit back like you gave Florida and California and Texas, they say oh no, no, no. There's a reason why there's so much poverty and despair in the Gulf Coast. We can't even get our fair share of natural resources that we produce in this country. And it's upsetting.

When we ask the federal government just to give us back what we produce they'll say oh, well, we have to think about it. My friends, why do you have to think? Katrina showed America that there's still poverty in our midst. I didn't need Katrina to tell me that. But, my friends, we now know it. We can't close our eyes. Louie Armstrong, I listen to Louie Armstrong all the time. He has a wonderful song, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" I play it, like my daddy used to play the Platters, around the clock. When I get in my car today, I'm going to play it again. It's like an anthem. We miss New Orleans. We miss the music. We miss the language. We miss the architecture. We miss the food. Mostly importantly, we miss the people. Where ya at? How ya doing? Whatcha cooking today? See ya later, right? We always answer ourselves.

My friends, most of all the wounds. And I only speak as a native daughter, but I have to hear my brothers and sister cry ever day. The wounds that have been inflicted on a people, my friends, is so damaging. The wounds are not just physical wounds of being away from your home. They're now spiritual wounds of being told that we've done enough and that we can't do much more. That's not true. A budget of $2.7 trillion. And we talk about King and Mrs. King, and I think about what Dr. King stood for, what he died for, the march that he was on in the last days of his life, a march for economic justice, a poor people's campaign.

And look at that budget. Take a deep look at that budget and say to yourself, is this budget going to lift one more child out of poverty? Will this budget save one more American from losing his or her health insurance? Will this budget keep us on track of being a great nation? And sadly, my friends, I must tell you this budget will do nothing to ease the pain and suffering of those who already have too little in our society. And that's a bad budget and it's immoral and it's not worth the paper it's printed on. And if I get a chance to tell him again, I'm going to say it because it's wrong, and we should tell our leaders.

And I'm going to tell you something about Washington, I'm so glad I'm not there right now. Now, you all know I love what I do, otherwise I wouldn't do it. I'd just be a chef. I stir up everything. Stir you all up if you all give me a moment.

Like the Braziles, I'll be in good service, somebody doing something worthwhile. But I enjoy what I do because I get a chance every day to speak truth to power. I saw Joe Lowery on that stage the other day telling everybody what he thought. And they say well, that wasn't politically correct. But that was in the Baptist tradition and he did the right thing. Some people may not like it, but you know what? Tough.

My friends, we've got to tell them that this budget is wrong. Our country's moving in the wrong direction, and we need a course correction. That's why some of us are counting the days, 273 to the 2006 election, and 999 to the 2008 election. Washington, D.C., has gotten so bad it's just downright disrespectful. Nobody respects each other. No one can communicate. One party controls everything. The other party is still trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for. Sometimes I believe they all need a spinal transplant. Oh, my best one is when they come in the room and tell us oh, well, you know the reason why we couldn't fight that budget cut is because we were not in the room. What you mean? You've got a key. You've got an ID. You can get into the room, you just don't want to knock down the door. That's leadership.

If you and I had the ability because we had a key and we had an ID to get in the��� just get in the house, and then we heard that around the corner through that door they're now figuring out our nation's priorities as it relates to the budget, as it relates to higher education, as it relates to our social net programs. Now, you mean to tell me you're going to complain and whine that you couldn't get in? Go knock it down. And, by the way, call CNN, we'll cover it. And if you're smart enough you'll get arrested. At least the people know that you stood for something. What did you accomplish this year? Well, I got arrested because I was trying to stop $12.1 billion from being cut from the student loan program. I got arrested because I was trying to prohibit another $1.7 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy. I got arrested, my friends, because I tried to raise the minimum wage for the first time in almost eight years. Would somebody please get arrested for doing something in America again.

I believe we owe it to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and Rita to once again summon this nation to eradicate poverty in our lifetime. We owe it to them to fight for justice and to end racism once and for all. We owe it to all of those victims who were stranded and left behind to continue to wage the fight on their behalf. And so, my friends, for those of you and others who may be suffering Katrina fatigue, get over it. Get over it until we rebuild the Gulf Coast and once again our people are able to go back home. Race defines so much of what we do in America, but it should never define the government response to people who are suffering. Race is what placed so many victims in the lower parishes in the first place. Race is what kept so many people without having the means to go and leave. Some people had no way of leaving. They had no cars. They had no transportation.

And unfortunately, my friends, Katrina struck at the end of the month. If many poor Americans, as I had to tell Bill Clinton, President Clinton called me, "Donna, what can I do?" I said, President, first of all, you know it's the end of the month. You know how poor people live. They live from paycheck to paycheck. And at the end of the month what do they do? They blow the last $4 because they know they're going to get their check like the first of the month. So I said, Mr. President, you can do two things. One, make sure you tell Wal-Mart and Walgreens and CVS to give out the medicine because the people, unfortunately the Red Cross don't carry what they need. They need their high blood pressure medicine, they need their diabetes medicine, they need their medicine. Not drugs, they need their medicine. I said the second thing you can do, Mr. President, you can tell whoever has ice and water to please just drop it off. Don't let people die from dehydration, in America. I was out of my mind when I was telling this to the president.

And I said, Mr. President, every time I go and try to get a money order or wire money home, I have to spend half my money wiring it home. I said, now, Mr. President, the electricity is off so they can't get to their ATM, my friends. I said so they need money. When my brother Kevin started leaving New Orleans and heading west toward Lake Charles he stopped, here come Rita, he had to go somewhere else. He's in Columbia, South Carolina. I thought he would come to D.C. but he said it's too cold. But, my friends, we had to break it down. I volunteered to be a translator for FEMA, Federal Employees Missing in Action. They didn't take me up, but I volunteered.

My sister who had to go on national TV, I had to finally comb my hair after seven days and say, you know, it's really something. I had a doo rag on. Some of you women know what I'm talking about. It was one of those moments. I had finally, I got fed up. This was when someone told me on Sunday, a week after the storm had passed, I had finally heard from my sister Lisa, my brothers, my sister Cheryl, my dad. I put my dad in a hotel. I sent $300 for him to eat and make phone calls. My dad said, "Oh, I just want to go make groceries." I'm like, the food is OK in a hotel. "No, no, I want to go make my own groceries." I mean he's in the hotel suite trying to make some jambalaya out there in San Antonio.

And so when I had finally heard, I said, Lord, please, my sister Sheila, she had brain surgery, she had a tumor, she needed help. When I last talked to Sheila I said don't go nowhere, Sheila. Stay there. Somebody will come and get you. I said fill your bathtub with water, keep your candles burning, take your medicine, Sheila. I said, but somebody will come and get you. When I called, I had to file with the International Red Cross. I did everything I was told. I was being a good compliant person. I have computers, I have friends, I had everyone helping me sending clothes, sending money, everybody was in the groove. We were being FEMA and Red Cross.

But Sheila had to get out of that assisted living facility. And they told me to my face that that was not a priority. They said we've got to get the people out of the Super Dome and the people out of the Convention Center, I'm sure because they were making too much noise. And they didn't like the pictures that were being sent all over the world, which then gave us the response from Fidel Castro and the French government and others, we'll send help. They didn't want that. They said no, no, no. But when they told me that people who were in nursing homes, people who were in mental facilities, people who were in public housing projects and senior citizens homes were not a priority I got angry. And when I get angry I'm not one of those that throws things at anybody, I take action. I comb my hair, put on some makeup, and I went to CNN. I said, "Wolf, I need five minutes."

You see, you never make a black woman mad. Or, for that matter, any woman. I speak for myself because I know some women don't want to be caught up in the emotional turmoil. But I felt at that moment I had to stand up for Sheila, and I did. Within one hour of going on national TV giving out her address, I said the last time we checked they were still in 12 feet of water. She cannot swim, and I'm sure she will not do anything but wait, as I told her to do. I have not been able to communicate with her because, like my father and others, she has no cell phone and she has no cash and no credit cards. She's in a facility and she needs help. Please send somebody to go and get my sister. I was very calm -- very, very, very calm.

When I got home that afternoon, Tim Russet called me, some other reporters called me and said we are making calls, we're calling our camera crews, blah, blah, blah. Within one hour I had a phone call from the Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries.

Now, when I was growing up nobody ever called you from Wildlife & Fisheries. I mean that's like you got a turtle in your backyard, Wildlife & Fisheries. A crocodile who left the bayou and came into your backyard, Wildlife & Fisheries. But Wildlife & Fisheries in New Orleans, wow, I say OK. "We found your sister. She's alive. She's one of six people alive," they said, "but she won't come with us."

And I said oh, I was so grateful to God that Sheila was alive. I called all my other siblings and my brother Chet who was within a 30-mile radius. We sent up a radius so that everybody knew whether, if you had to go somewhere, check in. We gave you clothes and money, and that's how we took care of our family. Chet went with my cousin who's a New Orleans police officer, because she wouldn't go with anybody. I told her somebody would come and get her. And she went with Chet.

I just wanted to share that story with you because it was not easy, my friends. I have access. I can pick up the phone and call the president, President Clinton, Vice President Gore. I even offered Gore $500, because he was going in and out with a plane. I said go. Five hundred dollars in Louisiana is a lot of money. I said give somebody $500, they'll go get my family. I was down to bargaining. I wanted my family out of that water. Since Katrina some of my family has fallen back on hard times using their modest savings and assets to survive in strange places while they await promising news from their insurance companies or FEMA.

My sister Lisa has returned to New Orleans, the only one. She's moving to a trailer, she's ripped out the mold in her red tagged home, she's thrown out all of her belongings, and now she's waiting for FEMA to deliver a blue tarp to patch up her roof. She still doesn't know whether she can rebuild or whether enough people will return in order to justify their neighborhood restarting all over. Like so many others, her life is on hold. She's in limbo waiting until someone gives her the plan. In a couple of weeks some New Orleanians will return home to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mardi Gras. I'm torn. How can I go back when my family's unable to go home? Perhaps I'll find other ways of celebrating this wonderful Mardi Gras season.

I must tell you, my friends, that when the debris is cleared, when the mud is finally removed and we're ready to start over, we must make sure that we rebuild our great city and region in a way that will lift people up and close our great divide. Dr. King once remarked that we must decide whether we walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life's most persistent and nagging question is: What are you doing for others? I believe that it's time that we recommit ourselves to helping our fellow citizens. Not only those who are struck by natural disasters, but those who face the daily disaster of living in poverty in our great land.

This is a great country. I know that. This is a country that took a child that was born into poverty and allowed her to live out her dream to pick a president. When I was a little girl I didn't want to play Barbie, I didn't want paper dolls. I told my mother I didn't want to marry a prince or be a princess, I wanted to pick a president. And I spent my whole life -- seven presidential campaigns, 56 congressional campaigns, 19 state and local campaigns, 46 states (four more states I'll be Miss USA without the bikini). The one thing that I dream of, and I will continue to work for as a child of the deep South, is the day that we can all come together. I am grateful to have so many friends who helped my family, black and white alike.

Katrina, Rita, they didn't care about your color. They took you out no matter who you are and what hill you lived on or what street you called home. I'm grateful that so many Americans reached out and gave us a place, a dry place to call home. But I want more than just empty promises and rhetoric and a long speech. I want all of you today to find some way to help those who are still hurting and to find some way to give back. The Bible says to whom much is given much is required. Don't wait for the government, don't wait for the president or vice president or any member of Congress to tell you what you know in your heart is the right thing to do. If you believe in justice, if you believe that Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King served a greater cause and a more noble cause, then give back and help lift someone up.

I leave this day and this program committed to keeping the fire of freedom burning. The march has not ended. And to all of the young people in this room, to David and to John and to so many other promising graduates, the world awaits your leadership, the world awaits your time to serve. This is your moment and it is your turn to help this nation realize its dreams and its goals so that all of us can walk together as brothers and sisters in peace. Let us all work together to create that beloved community. Let us all complete the journey for freedom, hope and dignity for all. hank you for having me. God bless you, and God bless this great institution. Thank you.

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