I want to thank you all – especially the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s leadership team – for this wonderful award, and for putting me in such good company. As we look back on another year of outstanding service and activism by the CBCF, it is a privilege to join with so many dear friends, dedicated partners, and indispensible leaders. And it’s an honor to be included among this year’s Phoenix Award recipients. I want to congratulate, and thank, each of my fellow awardees. The work that you do, and the examples that you provide, are so important. And I am proud to stand with you tonight.
I’m also grateful for this opportunity to salute the critical efforts that, for nearly four decades, the CBCF – and its ever-expanding network of supporters – have been leading. Here in Washington, and far beyond, you have found ways to bring Americans – from all across the political spectrum – together. You’ve helped focus much-needed attention on the critical issues – and the unique challenges – that so many communities of color continue to face. You’ve provided the guidance and expertise that policymakers and activists need in order to assist and empower the most vulnerable among us; to help heal long-standing divisions; and to protect the hard-won progress that has defined America’s course. Every day, your actions inspire countless Americans – including me – to redouble our efforts to advance the fight for opportunity – and equal justice under law – that is our shared priority and must continue to be our common cause.
Tonight – as we shine a light on these remarkable contributions, and as we recognize the power of individual voices and the strength of collective action – we also have an important opportunity. We have a chance to look forward, to take stock of what’s left to do, and to consider the responsibilities that each one of us shares – to ourselves, to those whose memories we honor this week, and – of course – to our children.
Without question, in recent decades, and most especially in recent years, we have seen that we have traveled far on the long road toward equality and inclusion. But let us share a truth with one another: we have not yet reached the Promised Land – or fully realized the founding promise of our Constitution. Today, as we face unprecedented threats to our national safety and security – we are also working to right injustices that stretch back for generations. And we’re being forced to confront challenges that have long seemed intractable, as well as a wide range of new and novel, complex legal questions.
In short, despite how far we’ve come and how wide the doors of opportunity have been pried open for many Americans, it is time – yet again – to put our energy and skills to good use – in advocating for the most vulnerable members of society; in protecting the civil liberties – and most sacred rights – of every single person in this country; in seeking out new ways to prevent violence and discrimination and to ensure fairness in our justice systems, election processes, and financial markets; in safeguarding the basic infrastructure of our democracy; in providing economic and educational opportunities for all of our countrymen – and women; and in carrying forward the fundamental ideals upon which this country was founded, and which continue to drive our pursuit of a more perfect Union.
As our nation’s Attorney General, it is my great privilege – and solemn responsibility – to lead the Justice Department’s efforts to honor these ideals; and to enforce the essential civil rights protections that generations of pioneers have fought, sacrificed – and too often died – to bring about. And, tonight, not only as Attorney General, but also as a citizen and as a parent, I am proud join with all of you in pledging my own best efforts in advancing the cause of freedom, fairness, and justice.
Of course, just as in years past, this work will be anything but easy. But we simply cannot allow this era – our era – to mark the beginning of a reversal of a progress too dearly won. Far too much is at stake. And far too many Americans are in need of our help.
In this regard let me make a pledge – I will not allow the arc of American history, which has always been about expanding the electorate, to be halted. Let me be more specific – following in the tradition of Democratic and Republican Attorneys General, we will not stand by and allow the voting rights of American citizens to be impinged by specious arguments and by those who seek naked political advantage. This is not a political issue. It is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is not a conservative or progressive issue. This is an American issue and goes to the heart of who we say we are as a nation. The right to vote will be protected.
As I look around this room and have traveled across our great country, I can’t help but be hopeful about the road ahead – and the progress that passionate advocates like all of you will continue to make possible. As we carry our efforts into the future, there’s no question that we’ll keep relying on organizations like the CBCF to help extend fundamental protections – and to encourage broad-based engagement – on a host of issues of national concern and consequence. And I firmly believe that – if we heed the lessons of our past and follow the examples of our predecessors; if we keep faith in one another, and in our democratic institutions; and if we rededicate ourselves to the essential work of helping freedom grow, and extending the blessings of our Constitution to all men and women – then there is no limit to the progress we can make, or the distance we will – and must – travel together in the days ahead.
Once again, thank you for your commitment to – and leadership of – this work. I am proud to walk at your side, and grateful to count you as partners and friends.