Montgomery Advertiser: Sharing a Dream: U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell challenges crowd at ASU event to carry on King's legacy
U.S. Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Birmingham, told hundreds at a Bridge Builders Breakfast on Wednesday that while great strides have been made, blacks in Alabama still have plenty of bridges to build.
She said while many saw the election of President Barack Obama as the realization of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream, modern-day challenges are no less daunting than those faced by our forefathers.
“When public schools that are relegated to minority children are unfunded and underequipped, we still have much work to do,” she said. “When gun violence comes to local communities like Montgomery and the escalation of black-on-black crime demonstrates a blatant disregard for human dignity, we still have much work to do.
“When the growing disparity in employment, poverty, and health still exists, we still have much work to do. And when states like Alabama can impose photo ID laws as modern-day barriers to voting, I submit ... we still have much work to do.”
She told the crowd at the event, sponsored by Alabama State University’s Center for Leadership and Public Policy, that it is not enough to honor King once a year; they must look within themselves and look forward to determine how they will play it forward to further the dream of advancing justice for all and to continue the legacy of the African-Americans who came before them.
She said blacks in Alabama have a special responsibility.
“Each year, we celebrate black history month in February, and all the achievements of African-Americans through all walks of life. We are the inheritors of a great race of achievers, and the progress that has been made has come at a great cost. No one knows more about the cost or the price of freedom than we who have lived in Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma,” she said.
“We live in the battleground, ground zero if you will, and because we know that the price of freedom is never free, I believe we must have a special charge.”
Sewell, elected to a second term in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District in November 2012, is the first black woman to ever serve in the Alabama Congressional delegation.
She challenged the crowd at the RSA Activity Center to reflect on what they are doing to continue the legacy.
“We honor those who made black history by living the dream, preserving the legacy and continuing the struggle,” she said. “We pay tribute to those who paved the way by building bridges of opportunity for everything. The dream that Dr. King had was not a black dream. It was a uniquely American dream founded in the American constitution that all men are created equal ... it is a dream that should live in the hearts of all of us, black and white. A dream rooted in respect, human dignity and justice.”
One of the biggest roadblocks to the dream that the 7th Congressional District she represents faces is double-digit unemployment, Sewell said.
She said she started an annual job fair to help, but noticed many of the 5,000 job seekers who attended the first event were not “dressed for success,” and didn’t know how to use a computer or have resumes.
So her office instituted a self-empowerment program called Project READY (Realizing Everyone’s Ability to Develop Yourself).
“No matter how much business leaders, community leaders, economic development want to bring industry into our community, it is really up to each individual to want to do better for themselves,” she said. “And all we can do is to make sure we provide the tools to (to help them) make themselves successful. And I’m really proud to say that educational institutions from this community helped to partner with us.”
ASU and H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College and others partnered to help provide the tools needed within the program.
It was the first Bridge Building meeting for Gwendolyn Boyd as ASU’s new president. She said that she heartily approved of the event.. “Anything that brings people together as part of community building, it has to be good,” she said.