U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver gets frustrated when he hears somebody refer to the civil rights movement as “a part of history.”
“Times have changed, but that doesn’t mean the problem is solved,” said Cleaver, of Missouri’s 5th District, at Tuesday night’s Keeping the Dream Alive: Why Dr. King Still Matters, an annual interfaith event on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
“We’re not living in a post-racial America,” said Cleaver, who was called on to deliver the keynote address in the place of the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader often called “the dean of the civil rights movement.”
Lowery had been scheduled to speak but fell ill. Organizers said he made a personal call to Cleaver, a United Methodist pastor and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and asked him to speak in his stead.
“I know that Rev. Lowery, who is no stranger to Augusta, would have liked to have been here tonight,” said the Rev. Terence Dicks, of the Progressive Religious Coalition of Augusta, which holds the annual service.
The area’s largest interfaith event draws a crowd of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus. Leaders from each faith offered prayers, blessings and readings at First Baptist Church of Augusta.
Just before Cleaver spoke, the U.S. House of Representatives was considering a Hurricane Sandy relief package that, he said, “hopefully passes without my vote.” It did, and provided fodder for his speech, in which he called for an ongoing commitment to realizing King’s dream of a just and compassionate society.
“We cannot accept mediocrity in our institutions or ourselves,” he said. “In the name of Martin Luther King Jr., I’m calling for a season of introspection and restoration.”
“On the road to fulfilling Dr. King’s dream, we just ran out of gas,” he said. “We got tired of pursing equality.”
There’s a solution.
“Life is not microwavable. It’s not a sprint,” he said. “We reach the finish line by continuing to run. We reach Dr. King’s dream by continuing to pursue it. It will not pursue us.”