Sharpton, King family call for change on MLK Day

The Rev. Al Sharpton on Monday commemorated civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. with a plan to lead a national drive to protect diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Speaking to a crowded room at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Sharpton said the civil rights movement must not be celebrated but continued.

“We cannot act like this is a holiday and a day off — this is a day on,” said Sharpton.

Sharpton pointed to ongoing political battles over voting rights, affirmative action and reproductive rights that his organization, the National Action Network, has highlighted, noting the disproportionate effects these issues have on Black Americans.

“The good news is we’ve come a long way,” said Sharpton. “Dr. King never saw a Black become mayor of his hometown. He never saw a Black become the governor of a state. He never saw a Black vice president, and she’s also a woman, or a Black president of the United States who was reelected.”

Sharpton was joined by Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, as well as Yolanda Renee King — the only grandchild of King.

Waters King said attacks on liberties have left her teenage daughter with fewer rights than when she was born.

“The facts are that there are those forces that want to turn us around. But we’re all good together because we understand that there’s something that supersedes facts and that is the truth,” said Waters King. “Everyone in this room knows the truth: that those that came before us paved the way; that each one of us is an answered prayer of an ancestor; and, most importantly, we’re here to remind you today that each one of us is the dream of the dreamer.”

Yolanda Renee King urged those gathered to engage in more service to achieve her grandfather’s dream, while Martin Luther King III said his parents are looking down on humankind, waiting to see what changes will be made.

“Somehow humankind has got to come together. That’s what Dad and Mom would have wanted on this actual day,” said King. “We can become a better nation. Dad and Mom and others have shown us that it only takes a few good human beings coming together.”

Monday’s breakfast included a message from Vice President Harris, who said King fought for freedom even though it is foundational to the promise of America.

“Let us continue to stand together now and fight to defend our most sacred freedoms,” said Harris in recorded remarks. “And let us do that with optimism and hope, because we know when we fight, we win.”

The annual breakfast also honored Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D), the nation’s only sitting Black governor and Maryland’s first Black governor; Phylicia Rashad, actress and Dean of Howard University’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts; and actress Taraji P. Henson.

In his remarks, Moore addressed the racial wealth gap and said that the legacy of King cannot be a choice between equity and prosperity.

“To truly understand the assignment, to truly understand the legacy, it means being a society where we don’t have to choose,” said Moore. “We stand for each other.”

As Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, was receiving the MLK Day Education Award, the breakfast was briefly interrupted by a protestor who said her son was discriminated against after having a seizure at school and being “locked up” by the departments of Education and Justice for indecent liberties.

Pringle let the woman speak before security eventually removed her.

Afterward, Pringle said the woman’s story shows how many American systems and institutions have been “steeped in injustice” despite the progress King was able to push the nation toward.

“We have to rededicate ourselves to that mission, to that vision that Dr. King laid out for us,” said Pringle. “We will not just commemorate this — we will continue that movement.”

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