Thursday, January 15, 2009

President Groff delivers emotional speech on MLK's birthday

On the floor of the Senate this morning, President Peter Groff delivered a personal and emotional speech on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday.


Thank you Madam President Pro Tempore. Members, we generally do this on the actual holiday which always falls on a Monday so I have time to actually prepare some remarks. This year I had even wondered, since we're going to the inaugaration, whether we should even do this, and recognized that because of the accomplishments of this country made on November 4. But, Speaker Carroll and I decided that it would be best to do this on his birthday. This is something we hadn't done in recent history. The body use to do that when the debate was going on over the holiday itself. Then, I struggled whether or not I should make comments and then Senator Schultheis reminded me that we are doing this today.

As you think about this, America is blessed in the fact that we have these great historical intersections. Moments in this country's history that mark historic and abrupt changes, direction, and hope. Not necessarily in a political sense, but in that quintessential American journey that we are on.

Tuesday, at noon, as prescribed by the Constitution, Amendment 20, there will be a peaceful transition. One that is looked upon throughout the rest of the world as something so unique about the greatest democracy that has ever been created. At noon, at the steps of the building built by slaves, a person of African descent will raise his hand and swear to the oath of the Presidency of the United States. A historic intersection again will occur.

At that moment, when I am sitting there with my wife, I'll probably think about 12 people. The same 12 people that I thought about on election night; the same 12 people that I thought about on August 28 when then Senator Obama accepted the nomination of my party for the Presidency of the United States. That moment in June when he stood center stage in Minneapolis to claim that nomination. I'll think of my great-grand parents some of whom were one generation out of slavery, one of whom was an actual slave. And, I will think about their parents who were at the foot of the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee under the overseer's whip on my father's side and on my mother's side who toiled under America's peculiar institution on the red clay of Georgia. I will think about how far we have come in the bridge that was built for me to stand in this body on this red carpet at the foot of our majestic Rocky Mountains and see how far America has come. So, I will think about them.

I will think about my children who didn't necessarily understand the significance of what was happening on November 4, but knew that it was critical to their parents. I'll remember when we walked in that night and it was either West Virginia or Kentucky that reported first. And, my daughter just happened to walk in at that time. I was watching MSNBC or CNN and they said John McCain had won. It must have been West Virginia and this tear came down my daughter's cheek and I looked at her and I said, "What's wrong?" She threw her head back and tears just began to roll and she said "Barack Obama lost." It was one of those parental moments where you are thinking, "How do I explain this?". She is now well-versed in the Electoral College. "No, not quite, but there are some other things that will go on." I will think about them and the bridge that was built for them on that night.

Selfishly, I will think about me, born April 21, 1963. Three days before I was born, on the south-side of Chicago in the same district represented a little bit later by a state senator named Barack Obama -- that night, three days before there was a speech by Martin Luther King that was pulled together by scraps of papers that were smuggled in to the Birmingham jail and then out of the Birmingham jail. That letter talked about the role of the civil rights movement in the faith community. Particularly, his brothers and sisters in that community who had not necessarily done what they were suppose to do. Then, I will think about how in June of 1963, Medgar Evers was slain in his driveway in Mississippi. I will think about, in 1963, how in August of that year, right after the slaying of Medgar Evers, John Kennedy said, "We need to move aggressively on civil rights legislation so I am sending a bill up Pennsylvania Avenue." That became the Civil Rights bill of 1963 that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I'll think about the hundred thousand people that gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear about the dream that he had for America. I will think about how not three weeks later, four little girls attending Sunday school, dressed up in their Sunday finest, in the bathroom that was leading up to a stairwell where a bomb had been placed the previous evening by members of the Ku Klux Klan. I will think about how that bomb exploded. And, how those four girls were killed because of the hate that was in America.

I'll think about the bridge that has been built in just my lifetime. I'll think about Dr. King, who probably didn't think that, when he died that, in forty some odd years, a person of African descent would become President. We often think about him as this dream maker who talked about what America could be. But, now we ought to see him as a bridge builder for all of us; for my great grandparents, for my children, for me, for his grandchild who was born last year.

What an unbelievable country that we live in. I don't know the scripture and I'm going to cheat because I'm not a theologian. There is a scripture in the Book of Numbers that talks about when Kaleb and Moses were talking about the land that they were going to go into and I think it's Numbers 13:30. This talked about how the people were silent and the fact that they were told by Kaleb, "We should go and take up the possession for the land for certainly we could do it." There are lots of different translations of the Bible. I wonder if one version of Numbers where it says, "certainly we can do it" will some day be translated as, "Yes we can."

On Tuesday at noon, that bridge that so many of us have hoped for, that so many of us have talked about from this spot, will be built. Many of us, half of us in this room, maybe didn't vote for him, but at one point and time I suspect all of us thought, "Wow, what an unbelievable country we live in. What an unbelievable country to come through the chasm of racism that we have had." We have built the bridge. What an unbelievable country that we live in where the only two African Americans in this body-- not because of our color -- but because of what our members, our colleagues, saw in us, that we could run this chamber, just two of us. I go to meetings nationally and they say how many African Americans are there in the body and I say two. They say like two on your row or two that share an office and I say no just two. But, Colorado did that and the bridge that we built for our children who will one day walk through and look at these pictures and say, "Wow,

look at that." And then go up to the Presidential area where the gallery is on the third floor and say, "Wow, look at that." What a tremendous, unbelievable country that we live in. What an unbelievable state that we serve.

So, thank you all very much and on Tuesday think of those 12 people when Barack Obama says that he will "uphold the Constitution of the United States of America so help him God." Thank you all very much.