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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Eighth Annual Georgetown University - Kennedy Center "Martin Luther King Jr: Let Freedom Ring Celebration"

Kennedy Center
Monday, January 18, 2010


Thank you Andrea. Welcome. We are proud to have with us tonight some very special guests:

  • The First Lady of the United States
  • Members of the Cabinet, Congress, foreign dignitaries, including the Ambassador from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Her Excellency Faida Mitifu, and many other distinguished guests.

I'd like to thank all of you for being here on this special occasion. I'd also like to thank everyone involved in the production of this memorable evening:

  • India.Arie and her musicians
  • The Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir
  • In his 7th year of direction of the choir, Reverend Nolan Williams
  • Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser
  • And Coach John Thompson Jr.

On an evening like this it is also important to remember a people, who have known their share of suffering, living less than 1500 miles from where we sit this evening, coping with the unimaginable effects of the earthquake of this past week – let us remember tonight our sisters and brothers in Haiti, their families and friends, and to commit ourselves to finding the ways that each of us may provide comfort to those in mourning, support for those who are suffering, to do what we can to help in their work of healing and rebuilding.

And, on behalf of Georgetown University, I am honored to welcome all of you to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Let Freedom Ring Kennedy Center Celebration. As we have now for several years, in partnership with the Kennedy Center, we hope that through our time together here, we can sustain and celebrate the spirit of this extraordinary American. And remind ourselves of what is best in our American story.

For the thirteen years of his public life, from the moment when he stepped forward for the first time in leading a bus boycott in Birmingham in 1955 to the time of his death in Memphis in 1968, Martin Luther King was responsible for moments of transcendence.

Dr. King understood the promise of America. He also understood that – promise was unfulfilled for many of our fellow Americans. He taught us that we the people of this great nation, “tied” together “in a single garment of history” would never achieve our promise so long as some were denied their inalienable rights.

Dr. King never faltered, never wavered. He never lost faith that “unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” He never lost faith in our ability to achieve racial equality and a more just society, one that respects, and protects the inherent dignity of each and every member.

We come together in a moment like this to remember a man who provided many moments that enabled such transcendence – moments in his churches, first on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, later in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, moments from a jail in Birmingham, moments on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial right here in Washington, moments on a road from Selma...moments that ensured the trajectory of our nation would transcend the bonds that held back our progress, moments that would ensure we stay true to the American dream – the dream that holds that each of us will be respected for our dignity, a dignity that will be protected.

Each year, we recognize a person or group who has advanced Dr. King’s dream that our dignity will be respected and protected. A person who truly exhibits Martin Luther King’s commitment to respecting the dignity of our sisters and brothers is this year's recipient of the Georgetown University John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award – Mr. Dikembe Mutombo.

Introduction of President Obama

And to help us celebrate and recognize this gifted athlete and great humanitarian, we have with us a very special guest: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States. President Barack Obama.

II. INTRODUCTION OF RYAN WILSON

Thank you, Mr. President, for your thoughtful words, and thank you for joining us tonight to help celebrate not only the service of Dikembe Mutombo, but the spirit of Dr. King. We are honored by your presence. Thank you.

And now, to share the history of the Georgetown University John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, we have with us Georgetown University sophomore, Ryan Wilson. Ryan is from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a government and sociology major and is an active member of the Georgetown community, serving on a wide-variety of university initiatives, including: the Georgetown University Student Commission for Unity, Georgetown’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Initiative, the African Immigrant Refugee Foundation, the Georgetown University Brothers for Christ.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to introduce Ryan Wilson.

III. AWARD PRESENTATION:

As Ryan so thoughtfully shared with us, the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award recognizes achievements by individuals that advance the mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tonight's recipient, Dikembe Mutombo truly embodies the legacy of Dr. King through his community service and his commitment to advance the dream of equality and opportunity for people around the world.

He grew up in Congo. He came to Georgetown in 1988 and distinguished himself both in the classroom and on the basketball court. After graduation he pursued a career in basketball. This past year he completed his eighteenth and final season in the National Basketball Association. Four-times he was named defensive player of the year and eight-times, an All-Star.

But we honor him this evening for something more. In 1997, he started the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, with the mission of "Improving Health, Education, and Quality of Life." In 2007, after nine years of advocacy and fundraising, Dikembe, and his Foundation, opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center. Named for his beloved mother, this is the first new medical facility in Congo in almost 40 years. This hospital – located in the most densely populated area of Congo – has been recognized for its potential to transform this war-torn region and the future of those that live there. It is a testament to Dikembe’s respect for the dignity of his sisters and brothers of Kinshasa.

Dikembe embodies the values we celebrate when we gather together on this day. He has worked with countless organizations – from the NBA Global Ambassadors to the United Nations Development Program. And through his efforts to help the neediest, the most vulnerable, and the most wounded in the global community, he has proven himself a fitting heir to Dr. King's legacy of service and love, and a fitting recipient of the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award.

It is my great honor to present this year's John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream award to Mr. Dikembe Mutombo.

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