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When Jesse Jackson spoke at this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration on Jan. 7, the crowd connected.
Prompting “amens” from many in the overflow crowd at the 500-seat Turner Auditorium, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. urged listeners at the 23rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration to focus not on “a watered-down” version of the slain civil rights leader’s dream for racial equality but instead on addressing the “broken promises that inspired the dream”—the federal government’s pledges of racial reconciliation and equal economic opportunities included.

“Here we stand today with a bounced check…a broken promise,” Jackson said.

Jackson, 63, was a close associate of King and was near him when he was assassinated on a Memphis, Tenn., motel balcony in 1968. Calling King “the most quoted, most misunderstood, most admired, most hated—and least followed” leader, Jackson remembered that King, on his last birthday, Jan. 15, 1968, had met with colleagues to discuss jobs, education, health care and opposition to the Vietnam War—issues that remain major concerns today, only with Iraq now replacing Vietnam.

Reviewing the long African-American struggle for freedom since the founding of the nation, Jackson said the next stage of the civil rights movement should concentrate on economic equality and justice. “Beyond slavery, segregation and voting, there is Wall Street,” he said. Black entrepreneurs need access to capital in order to advance.

His speech followed rousing renditions of spirituals like “Amazing Grace” and “Down by the Riverside” by Unified Voices. Dean Edward Miller and Ken Grant, vice president of general services, presented the annual King Community Service Awards to nine Hopkins Medicine employees.

Jackson was presented with the Ideals Award. The honor, given in recognition for outstanding service and commitment to King’s principles, is sometimes presented to the keynote speaker at the annual MLK Commemoration. This year, it also went to event’s perennial organizer, cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins. Over the years, Watkins has brought in an array of speakers, including civil rights giants Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks and celebrities Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Cicely Tyson.

—Neil A. Grauer



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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