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Mayor Ted Wheeler
Remarks: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church
January 13, 2018
When discussing the legacy of a person as celebrated and influential as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it often becomes a habit to look back on the past and remind ourselves how far we’ve come.
When I was in school – and now that my daughter is in school, the same is true – teachers take part of his day to reflect on the progress we’ve made in the United States since Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech.
This is an important exercise… to recognize the progress we’ve made over the course of the last half-century. We have made progress. Celebrating that progress is part of honoring Dr. King’s legacy.
We should not and cannot, however, allow our successes to lead to complacency.
Dr. King preached URGENCY, and I cannot recall a time in my lifetime as URGENT as today.
The year 2018 marks fifty years since the assassination of Dr. King, and our nation is at a crossroads. Our national conscience is in a state of crisis.
Long-settled issues are now up for review by a president and a ruling party that rejects in whole or in part the direction our nation has taken. The moral arc of the universe has bent toward justice, and those who have fought it every step of the way now have powerful sponsors in our nation’s capitol.
Their open embrace of an unjust agenda has distorted the national dialogue. We no longer have a common understanding of what is right and what is wrong. We no longer agree on what is true and what is fake.
Worse still, is that we have entered a new era when violence is being legitimated as a political tactic, and violence has been increasingly employed toward racist ends.
Now more than ever, we must take Dr. King’s teachings to heart. And rather than look back, I think it is important to look forward using the tools Dr. King has equipped us with.
Dr. King often spoke of the Beloved Community.
The Beloved Community is a theory of society based upon non-violence, justice, equality, opportunity, and love.
He said, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation.”
The Beloved Community is the ultimate goal of Dr. King’s philosophy.
As your Mayor, I strive to encourage love, to promote understanding, to work toward a resolution, to urge forgiveness.
But I cannot honestly equate this city, as wonderful as it is, to the Beloved Community. Not yet.
Before speaking on this end goal, Dr. King never failed to preface it with the immense work that needs to be done before it can be accomplished.
This work can be done locally! This work can be done now! Together we can resist the sweeping tide of injustice, hatred, and inequality.
Raise your hand if you think having a meaningful dialogue about race is easy…
In fact, I firmly believe that if these conversations are not uncomfortable, then we’re not doing it right.
But uncomfortable does not mean uncivil.
I am continually surprised by how toxic our political discourse has become. We too often treat those with whom we disagree as enemies rather than potential collaborators.
And for all the benefits of the technological revolution, social media has allowed personal attacks to flourish while reasoned discourse has decayed.
Conflict is natural. We cannot avoid conflict. But Dr. King’s Beloved Community is defined by the love of our adversaries, and by working together in good faith to resolve our problems.
One example of a difficult conversation we are having as a city and a community is the redevelopment of the Hill Block in Albina.
In the 1970s, under the banner of urban renewal, the Portland Development Commission and the City of Portland condemned, purchased and demolished 188 properties, displacing more than 171 families. Redevelopment of those properties never materialized, and the properties have sat vacant.
Portland’s history around race is not always a pretty one. There have been episodes in our history we must reckon with. I view it as my responsibility as Mayor to be open about our City’s history, to tell the full story, and to help move us forward together.
I don’t view the Hill Block project as an attempt to make up for what has transpired. We cannot erase the past. Rather, this project has the potential to provide a shared path toward the future.
Whatever shape the development takes, what is ultimately built on those properties will be done in collaboration with the community and will include projects that serve and support the community.
For us to continue to do business, as usual, will not work and will not get us the results we desire. We must build relationships and work in partnership to get things done.
We must insist on new ways:
This work starts with you and me. When our nation’s leaders continually fail us. It’s for us to step up and take responsibility for our community.
We can all do our part to support one another. I implore all of us, on this special day of remembrance, to consider how we can do better for ourselves and our neighbors.
If you promise to do this with me, I make the same promise to you. I commit not just talking the talk, but to walking the walk. Part of that is listening. Part of it is leading in word and action. And part of it is being accountable.
Together, we can transform The City of Portland into the Beloved Community.
Thank you to Pastor Hennessee and Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church for having me, and to all of you for your hope and commitment to the future of this city.