The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Obama Video Clips > 2008-01-21 - King Day at The Dome


King Day at The Dome


JANUARY 21, 2008


[*] OBAMA: Thank you so much. I love you back. Thank you.

Giving all praise and honor to God for making this beautiful, if a little chilly, day. I want to thank Dr. Lonnie Randolph for his outstanding leadership. I want to thank Herbert Fielding, Jim Felder and I.S. Levy Johnson, the first African-Americans elected to the legislature after Reconstruction.

I want to thank Councilwoman Tamika Isaac Devine, first American- American woman elected to the Columbia City Council.


I want to thank Ernest Finney, first African-American chief justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina.

There are a lot of firsts in our presence, and I'm grateful to all of them.

I want to thank all the other dignitaries, and I want to acknowledge my outstanding competitors, but partners in the Democratic Party, Hillary Rodham and John Edwards, for their excellent leadership.


We come here today to celebrate a great man. And there are many lessons to take from this day.

As I was thinking about which ones we need to remember at this hour, my mind went back to the very beginning of the modern civil rights era, because before there was Memphis and the mountaintop, before the bridge in Selma and the march on Washington, before Birmingham and the beatings, before the fire hoses and the loss of those four little girls, before there was King the icon and his magnificent dream, there was King the young preacher and a people who found themselves suffering under the yoke of oppression.

And on the eve of the bus boycotts in Montgomery, at a time when many were still doubtful about the possibilities of change, a time when those in the black community still doubted the possibilities of change and many still doubted ourselves, King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today.

OBAMA: He said, "Unity is the great need of the hour." "Unity is the great need of the hour."

And, South Carolina, unity is the great need of this hour, not because it sounds nice or because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

Now, I'm not talking about the budget deficit. I'm not talking about the trade deficit. I'm not talking about the deficit of good ideas or new plans. I'm talking about the moral deficit in America.


I'm talking about an empathy deficit that exists. I'm talking about an inability to recognize ourselves in each other, to understand that we are our brother's keeper, that we are our sister's keeper, that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

We have an empathy deficit when we're still sending our children down corridors of shame instead of corridors of opportunity, not just in South Carolina but all across the United States of America.

We have a deficit when CEOs are making more in 10 minutes than ordinary workers are making in an entire year.

When families lose their homes so that lenders can make a profit, when mothers can't afford a doctor when their children get sick, when we've got trade agreements that are very good for Wall Street, but not so good for Main Street, we've got a deficit in this country.

OBAMA: We have a deficit in this country when there's Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others, when our children are still seeing nooses hanging from a schoolyard tree.

We have a deficit when homeless veterans sleep on the streets of our cities and young Americans serve tour after tour of duty in a war that I believe should have never been authorized and should have never been waged.


And we have a deficit when it takes a breach of our levees to reveal the breach in our compassion, when it takes a terrible storm to reveal the hungry that God calls on us to feed, the sick that he calls on us to care for, the last of these that he commands us to treat as our own.

So, South Carolina, we've got a deficit to close. Not just in this state, but in my home state of Illinois, all across America, we have barriers of justice and equality that must come down.

And to do this, we know that unity is the great need of the hour. We can't do this alone. We can't do it separately.

But here's the thing: true unity cannot be purchased on the cheap. It starts with changing attitudes, by broadening our hearts and broadening our minds. And that's not always easy. It's not always easy standing in somebody else's shoes. It's not always easy to see past our differences.

And what makes it even more difficult is our politics sometimes drives us apart.

We're told that those who differ from us on some things are different from us in all things, that+ our problems are the fault of those who don't look like us or don't act like us or don't come from the same place as we do.

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits these kinds of divisions across races and region, across gender and party. It's played out on television. It's sensationalized by the media.

OBAMA: At times, it has crept into the presidential campaign in ways that serve to obscure the issues, instead of illuminating the critical choices that we face as a nation.

So let us say, on this day, of all days, each of us carries the task of changing our hearts and minds. The divisions, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others -- all of this distracts from our common challenges, the challenges that we face: war and poverty, injustice and inequality.

We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing each other down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate.

We don't need a politics of fear in this country. We need a politics of hope.

That's what Dr. King's message talks about.


Because, if Dr. King could love his jailer, if he could call on Americans to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase that empathy deficit in our heart.

And I know that Lonnie's starting to get up.


I know Lonnie's not using the same clock he was.


So let me just close -- let me just close by saying this, because folks are cold and have been sitting outside for a long time.

You know, I talk a lot about hope in my campaign. And sometimes folks tease me. They say, "Oh, he's always talking about hope; he's so idealistic; he's a hope-monger...


... his head's in the clouds."

But I've got to tell you that I had to be hopeful to be standing here today.


I didn't come from a lot of money.


I didn't come from power or privilege.


I was raised by a single mother.


They gave me love. They gave me education. And they gave me a whole lot of hope.

And if you believe that we can change this country, I am convinced we can change this country.


If you believe we can fix our schools, we'll fix our schools.


If you believe we can give health care to every single American, we can give it to every single American.

If you will stand with me and march with me and vote for me, then I promise you that the day of a benevolent community will finally come here in South Carolina, and all across the United States of America.

God bless you all.