CLEVELAND, OH —Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by participating in community events honoring Dr. King’s legacy in Cleveland. Brown delivered opening remarks at the 19th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Breakfast Celebration and participated in a community service event at a local Cleveland school.  

The theme of the annual breakfast was “Celebrating the life, work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” Brown was named an honorary co-chairman for the event and spoke about Dr. King’s legacy of fighting for workers and echoed King’s message of dignity and justice for all workers. 

“Dr. King understood the importance of uniting all working people – black and white, middle-class and working-class, urban and rural. We are all created equal, and all workers deserve to share in the great wealth and prosperity they create for this country. No exceptions,” said Brown. 

Following his remarks at the breakfast, Brown also joined City Year Cleveland volunteers to participate in a community service project at Alfred A. Benesch School in Cleveland. 

Brown’s remarks at the annual breakfast, as prepared for delivery, follow. 

Sen. Brown Remarks

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Breakfast Celebration

Monday, January 21, 2019; Cleveland, Ohio 

Thank you to: Rev. Ribbins; Rev. Gibson; Delores McCollum, Chair of the Scholarship Committee; Stanley Miller, Chair of Cleveland MBK; Our keynote speaker Dr. Hedgeman; and all of our award winners – I’m particularly excited to welcome Rev. Moss back to Cleveland 

Nearly eleven years ago, just days before the historic 2008 election, Connie and I had the great honor of standing backstage with Rev. Moss, Edwina Moss, and Congressman Lou Stokes – three civil rights icons – while more than 80,000 people waited for then-Senator Barack Obama to take the stage. 

I listened as three veterans of the American Civil Rights Movement swelled with pride at seeing their generation’s hard-won victories make possible the election of our first Black president. 

Finally I also want to thank the wait staff. The workers Dr. King fought for mostly have to work today. 

Dr. King was martyred while fighting for the rights of sanitation workers in Memphis. 

He said to AFSCME workers on strike in 1968:  

“Whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth…All labor has dignity.” 

Dr. King understood and preached the deep connection between civil rights and workers’ rights. He fought for both, and we have so much work to do to carry on his fight. 

He said: “We look around every day and we see thousands and millions of people making inadequate wages. Not only do they work in our hospitals, they work in our hotels, they work in our laundries, they work in domestic service, they find themselves underemployed.” 

Then he said: “No labor is really menial unless you're not getting adequate wages.”

We work to change that. 

For far too many people in this country today, hard work isn’t paying off like it should.  

And as we work to change that, we must acknowledge that it’s even worse for workers of color – they face the same economic challenges at even higher rates, and they face those challenges while also dealing with racism that makes it even harder to get ahead, no matter how hard they work. 

Our efforts to carry on Dr. King’s legacy must encompass fighting all the injustices of racism, both blatant and systemic. 

And they must also include fighting demagogues who seek to divide working people. 

They divide to distract from the powerful and the privileged taking more and more of the fruits of workers’ labor for themselves. 

Make no mistake, Donald Trump knows exactly what he’s doing. 

Donald Trump with his phony populism has tried to fool people into believing he’s on their side by attacking fellow Americans and demonizing immigrants and people of color in order to distract from the fact that he’s used the White House to enrich people like himself. 

That’s not populism – populists are never racist. 

Populists are not anti-Semitic. 

Populists don’t lie.  

They don’t appeal to some by pushing others down.

True populists follow the example of Dr. King. We fight for all people. 

We fight for higher wages for all workers – not just Wall Street CEOs. 

We fight for quality public schools for all children – not just those lucky enough to be born in the right zip codes, while Betsy DeVos turns the rest over to for-profit charters. 

Betsy DeVos is actively rolling back protections for students across the board, including policies that were supposed to combat the school-to-prison pipeline.  

We fight for health care for all Americans – not just the healthy and the wealthy. 

We fight for sentencing reforms and other reforms that result in justice for all people – not just those with the privilege that lets them navigate a rigged system.  

That’s what the First Step Act was about, but it was only that – a first step, and one that that should have been taken years ago. Because we knew years ago that black men were being incarcerated at astronomical rates for non-violent offenses. 

We knew years ago that resources were not there to help ensure that former offenders transition back into society. 

And we knew years ago – well before the scourge of the current opioid crisis – that addiction is an illness, it’s not a character flaw, and that incarceration is not the cure.   

That also means we fight for the right of every single American to vote. 

We fight against the deliberate dismantling of voting rights that we’ve seen here in Ohio and all across the country. 

Because we know exactly who those voter suppression laws target – it’s the same people they were targeting when Dr. King and John Lewis marched from Selma to Montgomery. Once again, it’s a systematic effort to disenfranchise people of color. 

Voting rights is why I decided to publically oppose Jeff Sessions as attorney general before any other U.S. Senator did. And it’s one reason why I’m not supporting William Barr’s nomination today – we’ve seen no indication he’ll be any better. 

He’s made no commitment to fight voter suppression or racial gerrymandering, and anything less than a total commitment is unacceptable for an attorney general.  

We can’t have justice for all workers in a system that excludes voices of color. 

Dr. King understood the importance of uniting all working people – black and white, middle-class and working-class, urban and rural. 

He told those workers in Memphis, “you are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny.” 

Today, and all days, let us heed Dr. King’s words. 

We are all created equal, and all workers deserve to share in the great wealth and prosperity they create for this country. No exceptions.