This morning, on the holiday celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, President Barack Obama was publicly sworn into office for his second term as President of the United States. His inaugural speech was 2,095 words long. It covered many different issues from the role of government to freedom, poverty, the military, education, international interactions, and climate change.
Its over-arching message to me is that as a country and as individuals, we need come together to stand up for equality for all.
President John F. Kennedy, Jr. said something similar in his 1961 inaugural speech when he asked all Americans to help each other. He said then, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
Martin Luther King expressed similar sentiments in his “I Have a Dream Speech” in 1963:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character….I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’
I hope that Barack Obama’s words resonate as well. In that vein, here is how I think he best spoke about equality for all. Maybe part of this will become part of the lexicon of great Presidential speeches in the future.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
Our journey is not complete until every one is equal, cared for, cherished, and safe from harm. Thank you for your inspiring words, Mr. President. May all of us–from you as leader of the US to each of us in our homes and communities–work together to create a better, more accepting country and world.