Rep. Sherrill Honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the 50th Anniversary Morris Interfaith Breakfast
Morristown, NJ — Representative Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) joined with the community this morning for the 50th anniversary Martin Luther King Interfaith Breakfast of Morristown. Organized by the Martin Luther King Observance Committee, the breakfast recognized Dr. King, local civil rights pioneer Dr. Felicia Jamison, and youth speaker Perri Easley. Representative Sherrill spoke about the importance of remembering Dr. King’s legacy, and the work that remains ahead to build the “beloved community” in New Jersey.
Excerpt of remarks delivered by Representative Sherrill:
I have the honor, and the privilege, of serving the people of New Jersey in the United States House of Representatives. Every day on my way to work, I walk up New Jersey Avenue (yes, I live on New Jersey Avenue).
And every day, I walk up New Jersey Avenue, and I’m greeted at the top of the street by the dome of the United States Capitol. And the irony of that great monument to democracy is not lost on me: it was built by enslaved persons, but it is now home to some of the strongest voices for equality, justice, and democracy in the United States of America.
I go to work every day to fight for the people of the district, and cast my vote alongside one of those voices; a living legend of the civil rights movement. Everyone here knows that Congressman John Lewis is a national hero. And he talks to us, and to students from across the country, about our beloved community. A speech that he gave in May 2016 at Washington University in St. Louis sticks with me, especially with the news that Congressman Lewis has taken ill. I’d like to quote from that speech today. My esteemed colleague told the graduating students that:
“You have a moral obligation, a mission, and a mandate to do your part. You must play a role, help to redeem the soul of America, help create a beloved America, a beloved world where no one is left out or left behind because of their race or their class. In the final analysis, we are one people. We are one family.”
A beloved community, where we are one family and no one is left behind because of their race or class. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to find ways — both large and small — to bring that vision to fruition.
The theme of today’s breakfast is “The Dream Remembered,” and we are gathered to honor the work of the pioneers of the civil rights movement in building the beloved community, and the work left to do to achieve social justice and opportunity for all. From John Lewis to Dr. Felicia Jamison right here in Morris County, there are so many working to build up our beloved community and to keep Dr. King’s dream alive.
Dr. Jamison, we are so fortunate to have you as a teacher guiding our youth, an administrator leading the Morris School District, a civil rights activist fighting against racial discrimination and for fair housing, and a mentor with the Junior Matrons. Your fight for peace, tolerance, and justice is a proud chapter in the movement’s history. Thank you.
We’ve seen the storm clouds gathering that threaten the peace of this movement. The rise of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and intolerance across this country, and sadly, right here in New Jersey.
But Morris County recognizes that we must stand together against the rise of bigotry and hate.
I have been so heartened over the last week to attend events across Morris County that have brought together residents from all different faiths, and from all walks of life. Dr. King worked with faith leaders from across the world to advance the fight for equality and justice, and I’m glad to see his legacy alive and well in our own corner here in New Jersey.
I am committed to this fight as well. As your Congresswoman, I know it is a moral obligation, mission, and mandate on my part.
It is our moral obligation to protect the right to vote. Dr. King knew that after the Civil Rights Act passed, there was more work to be done to secure the right to vote. After the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Shelby v. Holder decision, at least 23 states across the country have enacted voter suppression laws, including voter purges, strict ID requirements, poll closures, and curtailing of early voting hours. I’m proud to say that I co-sponsored and cast my vote in December for H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Our democracy only works if all eligible citizens can vote and make their voices heard, and this legislation will strengthen voter protection laws by updating and restoring important elements of the Voting Rights Act.
It is our mission to fix our broken criminal justice system. I joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office as New Jersey’s first outreach and re-entry coordinator, and worked to help those leaving federal prison re-enter our communities. But we need to do more. In New Jersey, African Americans only make up about 15 percent of our population, but they account for 60 percent of incarcerated individuals. Congress passed the First Step Act in 2018, and I’m working with colleagues on legislation to fix our broken system — and you should know, New Jersey is a leader in this area — with Senator Booker and Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman engaged in this fight.
It is our mandate to make New Jersey an area even better to live, work, and worship. Too many Americans are struggling to provide for their families and are worried about the future. We have a responsibility to build opportunities for every New Jerseyan. That means working together on fixing our transportation system, supporting community college and re-training programs, lowering our tax burden, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and building pathways into the middle class. Congress passed funding last year for programs that work to do just that, including a $550 million increase to Head Start, $55 million for New Jersey’s highway and transit funding, and $40 million for a new investment in community colleges and eligible four-year partners through Strengthening Community College Training Grants.
But growing these pathways effectively and improving our quality of life takes collaboration at all levels.
We certainly have more work to do, but I am thankful that these types of community-based, collaborative efforts are part of the fabric of Morris County. And I am inspired by the work of so many in this room — people of goodwill who live, work, and worship here in Morris County — have done to make New Jersey a strong, vibrant community.
Before I close I want to mention another crucial effort this year, getting a complete census count for our district and for our state. The census determines our congressional representation but the annual allocation of federal funding for everything from Medicaid to highway dollars. Our office is engaged with many of the county and community groups who are already taking steps to make sure everyone is counted. Please reach out to my office if you want to be connected to these efforts.
One final note on the building in which I work: I’m proud to say that Rosa Parks now sits in the United States Capitol, her statue just off the House Floor. Dr. King stands resolved in the Rotunda of the Capitol. And Congressman Lewis walks alongside us in the halls of Congress. That is powerful. That is the legacy of the civil rights movement.
I’d like to close by saying thank you for welcoming me into your community, into your houses of worship, into your homes. I am honored to be here with you today and to continue our work to build the beloved community here in New Jersey. Thank you all so much.