Thank you, Tom [Perez], for your kind words and, especially, for your leadership of the Civil Rights Division. I also want to thank you and your team – as well as Richard [Toscano] and his colleagues in the Justice Management Division – for your work in bringing us all together.
Thank you all for being here – especially our many distinguished guests and our keynote speaker, Marc Morial.
Today, as we join together to reflect on – and to celebrate – the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are also bound by a shared grief and painful sense of loss.
This weekend, in an unspeakable tragedy, twenty individuals were shot in Tucson, Arizona, at a constituent meeting with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Six people were killed, including 9-year old Christina Taylor Green and Chief United States District Court Judge John Roll.
This senseless and shameful act of violence serves as an unfortunate reminder that – more than 40 years since Dr. King’s own tragic and untimely death – our world has yet to run its course of cruelty. And our work to combat violence – and to bring those who engage in violent acts to justice – goes on.
Without question, threats against public officials - whatever form they take - continue to be cause for concern and vigilance. But I do not believe that these threats are as strong as the forces working for tolerance and peace.
In times like these – times of inexplicable loss and unprecedented challenge – the importance of the Justice Department’s mission, and the power of Dr. King’s example, are brought into stark focus.
So, as we pray for those who have been killed and injured – including Congresswoman Giffords and the many families devastated by this tragedy – let us also recommit ourselves to the work of this great Department, and to our professional and personal efforts to carry forward Dr. King’s dream.
For a quarter of a century now, Americans have been coming together around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to do just that – and to pay tribute to Dr. King’s life and enduring contributions. Each year, this time provides an opportunity for each of us to rededicate ourselves to Dr. King’s dream of racial, social, and economic justice. It is also a reminder of the power and importance of service to others. Dr. King’s example, and his enduring legacy, offer proof that the contributions of a single person can help to improve, inspire, and transform an entire nation.
With his powerful words and deeds – and with both fearlessness and grace – Dr. King helped to blaze the trail that allows me to stand on this stage as our nation’s first African-American Attorney General. And for every member of the Justice Department, his dream of a more just and inclusive world remains one of our most important guideposts.
It has strengthened our efforts to safeguard civil rights; to improve access to justice; to expand opportunities to learn, serve, grow, thrive and – through the work of our Diversity Management Initiative – to ensure that all qualified candidates and current employees have an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the work of the Justice Department.
In the decades since Dr. King called for equal opportunity and struggled so courageously to move our nation forward – and in the half century since he traveled here to the Justice Department to share his goals and vision with Attorney General Robert Kennedy – great progress has been made. Now, for some, it may be tempting – when you look at the many accomplished attorneys and public servants in this Great Hall – to think that our nation’s struggle for equal opportunity has ended. But we have more to do. We have further to go.
I believe that the best way to carry on Dr. King’s work is to reach out to someone in need and to make an ongoing commitment to community service. Without question, there are great needs to be met in America and beyond. And I encourage each of you to help make certain that our nation’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observance is not simply a “day off.” It must be a “day on.” Together, we can ensure that it is a day of national service and an occasion to build on the progress that Dr. King helped to achieve.
On Monday, I will be in Atlanta, speaking at a center that is named in Dr. King’s honor and was founded to advance his vision of social, racial, and economic justice. The day before, I will have the honor of addressing the congregants of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King served as pastor.
These opportunities, not only to speak but to listen, to learn about needs and concerns – and to encourage community engagement – are what Dr. King’s birthday should be, and can be, all about.
Just as surely as heeding Dr. King’s example helped to steer America from a dark past, I believe that honoring his legacy through service will help us build a better, more just, and more inclusive nation.
Thank you all for your commitment to this work – and for the critical public service that you provide each day. I am grateful – and proud – to call you my colleagues.
And, now, it is an honor to introduce one of our nation’s most accomplished – and admired – public servants. Marc Morial has served as Mayor of New Orleans, as President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and as a member of Louisiana’s State Legislature. He has distinguished himself as a CEO, attorney, entrepreneur, professor, and – today – as the head of our nation’s largest civil rights organization, The National Urban League.
Please join me in welcoming my friend, Marc Morial.