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Saint Louis Post-Dispatch - Our Brother's Keeper


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By Representative William Lacy Clay

Recently, I was fortunate to join with some of my colleagues from the Congressional Black Caucus on a preview tour of the new national monument commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

President Barack Obama will dedicate the new King Memorial on Sunday, which is also the 48th anniversary of Dr. King's historic "I Have a Dream Speech" during the 1963 March on Washington.

Situated on the National Mall, Dr. King's magnificent likeness looks out on our nation's capitol with a powerful gaze that transcends generations to remind us that while his dream transformed America, much work remains to be done in order to finish the mission that he ultimately gave his life for.

With the beautiful symmetry of history, our first African-American president will deliver the keynote address at the dedication. I know that President Obama and the rest of my fellow African-American national elected leaders are ever mindful of all the brave souls who came before us and upon whose shoulders we still stand today.

I recall Dr. King's stirring speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial from the perspective of a 7-year old, who gathered with my family and our neighbors in the backyard of our home on Clemons Place in St. Louis.

My parents had used the longest extension cord we could find to set up the TV outside, so I knew that something big was about to happen.

Even as a very young man, Dr. King's words moved me, and I knew that because of him, our country and the entire world would never be the same.

For my family, the civil rights movement wasn't just something that we watched on the evening news. We grew up in the struggle, and I was privileged to be old enough to witness history myself.

On the very same day that Dr. King delivered his historic speech in 1963, my father, former U.S. Rep. Bill Clay, was leading the landmark Jefferson Bank civil rights protests in St. Louis.

That courageous action, which included his arrest and false incarceration for more than 100 days, lasted for many months.

But in the end, my father and his brave colleagues were vindicated, the chains of segregation and employment discrimination were shattered in St. Louis, and he went on to become the first African-American elected to Congress from Missouri.

I thought about all of that history as our group took in the power and beauty of Dr. King's memorial.

Then I looked over at my good friends who were experiencing this profound moment with me: Rep. John Lewis of Georgia; Congressman John Conyers of Michigan; Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina; Rep. Charles Rangel of New York; the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri; and one of Dr. King's closest aides, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

All of them either worked directly with or were close followers of Dr. King. They displayed immense courage in the face of brutal racial hatred and violence, and, collectively, they have rendered decades of service to our nation. As we looked at Dr. King's likeness, we didn't say much, because the moment was far too powerful for mere words.

While standing in Dr. King's shadow, it occurred to me that his memorial is the only federal monument along the Mall that does not commemorate a U.S. president or a war.

And that may just be God's way of reminding us what Dr. King was really all about: not the power of armies or political leaders, but the power of love, non-violence, brotherhood and the relentless pursuit of justice; the power of love as the only antidote to hate; the power of the truth in the face of ignorance and intolerance; and the power that average Americans still have when we stand up and demand that our country must deliver on all the promises that our Constitution makes, to each of us.

In the end, if we truly want to honor Dr. King, this beautiful memorial is not enough.

The highest honor we could pay him would be to renew our personal commitment as people of faith to stand up against injustice wherever we see it, regardless of the political mood of the moment, and to recall, as Dr. King reminded us, that we truly are our brother's keeper.

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay is a Democrat from St. Louis.

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