By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Doug Jones, sworn-in as a United States Senate 12 days ago, returned home today to deliver the keynote address at the 32nd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast.
During his 20-minute speech Jones spoke about the importance of justice and equality for all and why the American Dream and Dr. King’s Dream should be a shared vision.
“Together we have a responsibility to continue fighting for the American dream, Dr. King’s dream,” Jones said, “…to ensure that Alabama and our nation live up to the ideas of equality and justice … it means that children growing up in every community should have the same opportunities to succeed.”
The senator spoke in a Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center (BJCC) North Exhibition Hall filled with city leaders, organizers, activists, and citizens celebrating MLK Day.
Those in attendance included Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, Birmingham City Council President Valerie Abbott, Jefferson County Commission President Pro-Tem Sandra Little Brown and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.
But it was Jones who commanded the attention of the audience, many of whom helped get him elected to the Senate.
“I’m here today [as Senator] and it’s because you believed in me,” he said. “You believed in Alabama, you believed in this country, and you believed enough to devote your time and energy and enthusiasm to make my election possible.”
Jones said the breakfast is a chance to remember the sacrifices of not only King, but foot soldiers and many who fought for justice. “People like Rev. (Joseph) Lowery, Jimmie Lee Jackson, the great Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph Abernathy and my dear friend and colleague, [Congressman] John Lewis,” he said.
He also honored women who fought for freedom and justice.
“(These men) stood shoulder to shoulder with courageous women like Coretta Scott King, Recy Taylor, Rosa Parks, Virginia Foster Durr, Amelia Boynton (Robinson) and Annie Lee Cooper,” he said. “And in today’s climate we need to make sure that we recognize the courageous women of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Jones pointed out the critical need of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which he supports and the first bill he sponsored as a senator was to make sure funding remains in place for the program.
“Taking care of our children is not just an investment for their future, it is an investment in all of our futures,” he said.
He talked about how “those who speak the loudest and gain strength through fear rather than consensus and compromise” let CHIP expire putting 150,000 Alabama children at risk. “They refuse to expand Medicaid, threatening the health of one million Alabamians and the security of our rural hospitals,” he said. “They watched as children from certain zip codes got access to better education, and they did it generation after generation.”
He also pointed out that a lot of the rhetoric causing division is coming from the White House especially “when the President of the United States uses language that is not only beneath his office, but the antithesis of the values that we hold as Americans,” Jones said. “Every time we are faced with what seems like insurmountable difficulties we have risen to the occasion to confront it head on, and make no mistake, we will do it again.”
The senator pointed to the gains made by foot soldiers and King when faced with obstacles.
“Reject hatred, violence and fury,” he said. “We need to listen and learn from one another. We need to seek common ground even when it seems impossible.”
Jones concluded his speech by saying change in America will require “foot soldiers of today to make change. It’s up to us, it’s our challenge,” he said. “After standing on that stage on Dec. 12 [election night] I know you know what to do.”
Jones said he didn’t have all the answers, “but I know that it will take more than gathering for breakfast once a year.”
The breakfast also included a unity candle lighting; a dance tribute from dancer Deitra Streeter to the song Rise Up by Andra Day; and a riveting speech from 9-year-old Master Sergeant Jones who eloquently quoted King’s “I Have A Dream” from memory.