I would like to call attention to the presence with me of some people not usually found sitting together - Governor Matt Blunt, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, Comptroller Darlene Green, and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
We have put aside for tonight the differences - city versus county, region versus state, Democrat versus Republican, and even the intramural politics within City Hall to use the occasion of the annual Martin Luther King celebrations to call attention to the larger issues that are of concern to the people of Missouri and its most prominent region.
Dr. King well understood that the things that divide Americans - or St. Louisans - must always be considered in the greater context of our more urgent concern: equal access to great schools, to safe neighborhoods, and to good jobs.
Like a laser beam, Dr. King returned to the focused consideration of those issues again and again, and he worked tirelessly to keep our attention on them.
His discipline and wisdom must be ours.
We must strengthen families so that every child grows up in a caring home in a safe neighborhood.
We must give our kids constructive things to do before and after productive days at good schools so they grow up prepared for the future.
We must provide job training and fair access to jobs and unions.
We must help families facing unfair foreclosures to save their homes.
We can (and certainly will) disagree on a thousand smaller issues. But, we must unite on the bigger ones.
Yes, we will at times disagree. Yes, we will sometimes raise our voices in anger and hurt. But, we must also work together if we hope build on the undoubted progress St. Louis has made.
Tonight, people of good will sit down together to celebrate a great man’s legacy. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, I hope all people of good will sit down together at the table of reconciliation to engage in meaningful, constructive dialogue about how to move our City, region, and state forward.
You may hear people - black and white, and of all political parties - criticizing me for even suggesting that we should unite around a common agenda. They will want to fight to the end - no matter how much harm is done to the wider community. That is a misplaced attitude a decade into the 21st century and eight decades after Dr. King’s birth.
To men and women of goodwill, I say this: We will never all agree with every decision that I make, that Governor Blunt makes, that County Executive Dooley makes. But, we cannot allow ourselves to be defined and defeated by our smaller disagreements. Instead, we must be defined by our common hopes.
To those who say that race remains too great a barrier to mutual trust and constructive dialogue, I would only remind them that Democratic caucus members in a state about as white as you can get pledged a plurality of their delegates this past week to an African American candidate for president. As the first step to a more color-blind politics or as the first step to the White House for a person of color, this was a remarkable achievement.
It will take all of us - black and white - to move our state and region forward.
It will take all of us - black and white - to connect more people with good jobs, to provide a quality education to all students, to provide more after school programs for our kids, and to reduce crime in all of our neighborhoods.
We will not always agree, but let us pledge tonight to agree passionately on our common purpose and to act civilly on disagreements.