Thank you, Jocelyn, for those kind words – and for the outstanding work that you and your colleagues in the Civil Rights Division are leading across the country. It’s a pleasure to stand with you this morning, and a privilege to join you in welcoming so many friends, colleagues, and distinguished guests to this important annual celebration.
I’d like to thank Rhea Walker, George Henderson, and the Spingarn High School Junior ROTC Color Guard for participating in today’s observance. Thank you for making this program so special. I’d like to recognize Richard Toscano and his colleagues in the Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity Staff for all they’ve done to bring us together. And I’d like to extend a special welcome to our keynote speaker, Harry Johnson – whom I’m honored to welcome to the Justice Department this morning, as we celebrate the life – and lift up the enduring legacy – of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For more than a quarter century, Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life have come together each January to pay tribute to Dr. King’s memory, to reflect upon his contributions in the struggle for civil rights, and to rededicate ourselves to the cause that came to define him – and which must remain our common endeavor. Especially this year – as we gather just a day after what would have been Dr. King’s 84th birthday, and less than a week before our nation’s first African American president swears the Oath of Office on a Bible he carried with him at the height of the Civil Rights Movement – we can all take great pride in how far this country has come in the half-century since Dr. King first raised his voice to call our nation to live up to its founding ideals.
Yet, despite the remarkable, once-unimaginable progress we’ve seen even within my lifetime, the fact is that there is much more to do, and further to travel, on the road to equality, opportunity, and justice for all. And this morning, the responsibility of seizing what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now,” overcoming cynicism and frustration, and helping to make the positive difference that every American deserves – rests with each and every one of us.
Thanks to pioneers like Dr. King – and generations of Americans who have fought, sacrificed, and too often died to help build a more perfect Union – we know that the progress we seek is not beyond our reach, our capabilities, or our lifetimes. Their examples remind us that – in the work to promote peace – all those who are willing to stand up for the rights of others, and to speak out against prejudice and division, have the power to make a tremendous difference on behalf of their countrymen and -women.
Of course, for today’s Department of Justice, this work constitutes a top priority. But it’s also much more than a professional responsibility. It’s a moral calling. From increasing access to legal services, to prosecuting record numbers of criminal civil rights cases; from combating human trafficking, to eradicating hate crimes and implementing the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act – thanks to the tireless work of dedicated professionals in and far beyond this room, the Department’s commitment to preventing discrimination, bias, and hate-motivated violence has quite simply never been stronger. And our efforts have, in many ways, never been more effective.
At the center of these efforts is the work of the Civil Rights Division, under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Perez – which, over the past four years, has taken historic action to address some of our nation’s most persistent challenges – by expanding opportunity and access, fighting against exploitation and discrimination, and safeguarding the most vulnerable members of society. Since the creation of the new Fair Lending Unit two years ago, the Division has filed or resolved nearly two dozen matters – including the three largest fair lending settlements on record – providing for at least half a billion dollars in monetary relief for a quarter of a million individual borrowers across the country. The Division has secured convictions against 140 defendants on federal hate crimes charges. And over the last fiscal year alone, the Voting Section handled more cases than in any other year on record, opening more than 40 new matters – and nearly doubling the previous record, which was set in 2011.
We can all be proud – and encouraged – by the results that hardworking men and women at every level of the Justice Department have helped to attain, and the progress you’ve made possible, in recent years . But we cannot yet be satisfied – and this is no time to become complacent.
Today’s celebration provides each of us with an important opportunity: not only to reflect on Dr. King’s message of racial, social, and economic justice – but to reaffirm our commitment to carrying his important work into the future. As we consider the theme of this annual commemoration, I encourage you to help honor Dr. King’s legacy by giving back to your communities, helping one another, and reaching out to those in need. By answering this call to service, we can make certain that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will forever be regarded not as a “day off” – but as a “day on.”
In this work, I am proud to count you as colleagues and partners. I’m honored to stand with committed leaders like Attorney General Holder, President Obama, and countless others in helping to drive these efforts forward. And I’m delighted to introduce just such a leader right now: our keynote speaker, Harry Johnson.
As many of you know, as President and CEO of The Memorial Foundation, Harry played an instrumental role in building an impressive new memorial to Dr. King on the National Mall, just steps from monuments dedicated to our nation’s first President and to our 16th President, its Great Emancipator. Thanks in part to Harry’s leadership, generations of Americans who visit our nation’s capital will have the chance to come to know Dr. King, to draw strength from his story, and to keep faith in the ideals that defined his life and that have always made our nation great.
Beyond his work to bring the MLK Memorial to Washington, Harry has also served as national president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He’s been a respected legal practitioner, an entrepreneur, and an admired professor. And I can think of no one better to speak to us this morning as we honor Dr. King’s memory.
Please join me in welcoming Harry Johnson to the podium.