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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

THE JOHN F. KENNEDY CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
JANUARY 16, 2012

Good evening.  It is an honor to be with you tonight for our Tenth Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Let Freedom Ring Kennedy Center Celebration.

I wish to thank Reverend Nolan Williams and the Let Freedom Ring Choir, as well as our featured artist this evening Bobby McFerrin.

For ten years we have joined with the Kennedy Center in presenting this celebration and I wish to thank the President of the Kennedy Center, Michael Kaiser, and Vice President for Education, Darrell Ayers, and Vice President for Community Engagement, Garth Ross, for their extraordinary support through these years.

We come together each year to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, the movement for civil rights that he led, and his vision for our Nation—that this would be a place where the inherent dignity of every one of us would be respected and protected; that each of us would live in a country where we could achieve our full promise.

We are honored to be joined this evening by members of the King family and to welcome President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.  Mr. President, in so many ways you have reminded us that while “the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward justice,” as you have told us, it “doesn’t bend alone.”  We are here tonight to draw consolation and inspiration from the life and legacy of the man whose dream rose to become our national dream—and to resolve to continue the work of this dream.

In August 1963, not far from where we sit tonight, Dr. King said: “We cannot walk alone.  And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”  In honoring Dr. King this evening, we must remember those who walked with him…and those who seek to live out his message today.

In our own Georgetown community we have been blessed to have the witness of a man who has served our University now for more than forty years and has lived in the spirit of Dr. King.  For this reason we inaugurated the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award.  Each year, on this stage, with this Award, we recognize the contributions of extraordinary women and men who continue to lead us in the movement for social and economic justice.

Our recipient tonight of the John Thompson Legacy of a Dream Award is a man who throughout his life has played an extraordinary role in the promotion and protection of civil rights.  He served as advisor, attorney, and speechwriter to Dr. King.

Tonight we honor, Clarence B. Jones.

Born to parents who were domestic workers in Philadelphia; educated first by Irish nuns and than at Columbia—briefly interrupted by military service—and then at Boston University School of Law, his conviction and talent, at a very young age, brought him into service of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.

From serving as legal counsel to working on strategy for the Birmingham Campaign; from smuggling out of Dr. King’s prison cell, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and delivering the Letter to the clergy in Birmingham, to his work on crucial drafts of the “I Have a Dream” speech, Clarence B. Jones was one of the architects of the most significant movement for justice in our nation’s history.

Tonight, as we honor the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., let us recognize a man who walked “ahead” with him, and within whom today, the same spirit of justice still burns.

It is our honor this evening to present the 2012 John Thompson Legacy of Dream Award to Clarence B. Jones.

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