Speech in Memphis

If Martin Luther King were to reappear by my side today and give us a report card on the last 25 years, what would he say? «You did a good job,» he would say, «voting for and electing people who formerly were not electable because of the color of their skin. » He would say, «You have more political power and that is good.»

«You did a good job,» he would say, «letting people who have the ability to do so live wherever they want to live, go wherever they want to go in this great country.»

He would say, «You did a good job elevating people of color up the ranks of the U.S. armed forces to the very top and into top levels of the U.S. government.»

«You did a good job,» he would say, «creating a black middle-class of people who are really doing well. You did a good job opening up opportunity. »

«But,» he would say, «I did not live and die to see the American family destroyed. I did not live and die to see 13-year-old boys get automatic weapons and gun down 9-year-olds just for the kick of it. I did not live and die to see people destroy their own lives with drugs and build drug fortunes destroying the lives of others. That is not what I came here to do.»

«I fought for freedom,» he would say, «but not for the freedom of people to kill each other with reckless abandon, not for the freedom of children to impregnate each other with babies and then abandon them, nor for the freedom of adult fathers of children to walk away from the children they created and abandon them, as if they didn’t amount to anything.»

He would say, «This is not what I lived and died for. I fought to stop white people from being so filled with hate that they would wreak violence on black people. I did not fight for the right of black people to murder other black people on a daily basis. »

The other day, the mayor of Baltimore, a dear friend of mine, told me a story of visiting the family of an 18-year-old young man who had been killed on Halloween. He had a bunch of little kids along with him. He always went out with the little-bitty ones so they could trick-or-treat safely. And across the street from where they were walking on Halloween, a 14-year-old boy gave a 13-year-old boy a gun and dared him to shoot the 18-year-old friend he was walking with–and he shot him dead.

Elsewhere, right here in Washington DC–the symbol of freedom throughout the world–look at how that freedom is being exercised. The Washington Post had a story about an 11-year-old child planning her own funeral: «These are the hymns I want sung. This is the dress I want to wear in my coffin. I know I’m not going to live very long.»

That is not freedom–the freedom to die before you’re a teenager– is not what Martin Luther King lived and died for. If you had told anybody who was here in this church–where Martin Luther King gave his last speech before he was assassinated–that we would have abused our freedom this way, they would have found it hard to believe.

And I tell you it is our moral duty to turn this around.

There are changes we can make from the outside-in–those are the job of the President of the United States and the Congress and the governors and state legislators and mayors– raising standards, community policing. And there is something each of us here can do–from the inside-out–and in the spirit of my faith, I count myself as one of you to turn this thing around from the inside-out as well as the outside-in. Otherwise the outside changes won’t matter.

Sometimes, there are no answers from the outside in. Sometimes, the answers have to come from the values and the love and the stirrings and the voices that speak to us from within.

Here, you as the respected leaders and ministers of your faith, play a crucial role.

From the outside, we’re doing our best, but I do not believe we can repair the basic fabric of society until people who are willing to work have work. Work organizes life. It gives structure and discipline to life. It gives meaning and self-esteem to people who are parents. It gives a role model to children… We cannot repair the American community and restore the American family until we have the structure, the values, the discipline, and the reward that work gives us…

We have to make a partnership–all the government agencies, all the business folks. But where there are no families, where there is no order, where we have lost jobs because we had to reduce the size of the armed forces after the end of the Cold War, who will be there to give structure, role-modeling, discipline, love, and hope to these children?

You must do that, and we will help you.

Scripture says, «You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,» that «if your light shines before men, they will give glory to the Father in Heaven. » That is what we must do. That is what we must do. And I will work with you.