Portman delivers remarks at 32nd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Breakfast

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks at the 32nd annual Martin Luther King Day breakfast in Columbus, one of the largest events of its kind in the nation. Each year, The Martin Luther King Breakfast Committee, Inc. honors community leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to the ideals and values emulated in the life of Dr. King.

Portman discussed the themes of today’s brunch – acceptance, caring and cooperation – and his work as Senator to build on Dr. King’s legacy. A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video, which was streamed live on Facebook, can be found here.

“Jerry, thank you. And thank you to you and Tracy and 10TV for what you’ve done to raise awareness on this issue you’ve just talked about, the heroin and prescription drug epidemic that unfortunately has gripped central Ohio and this community and affected so many lives. As I’ve told Jerry before, he has saved lives, for doing the programming he has done to focus on this issue. I encourage them to continue and others to join in as well. And I appreciate the work of my colleague Joyce Beatty, and of course it is great to be here for the largest Martin Luther King Breakfast celebration in the United States of America. Of course it’s in Columbus, Ohio.

“I saw Bert Castle this morning, this is the castle that Bert built. I told him I am once again honored to be here. He noted that I have been here at every one of these breakfasts except for one and that was the inauguration of President Obama when I went to that inauguration representing our great state.

“The distinguished speaker we have this morning is former Mayor Coleman, who will talk, I assume, about the future, but I want to talk about the past for a second, which is the good service he’s provided Columbus and Central Ohio. Michael Coleman, thank you for your service. We’ve worked together on a number of projects. The one that I have the best memory of is the Reeb Avenue Center. Some of you know it, in the Southside of Columbus. I remember marching with you, Mayor, to the Reeb Center, with a bunch of kids and a marching band. I’m not sure how good our steps were with the marching band, but I know those kids appreciated what was going on which was a community center that provides more hope and opportunity. To Jerry’s point, it provides more opportunities for kids to have alternatives for turning to a life of crime or drugs. It also helps in terms of Second Chance. I was honored to be a part of getting funding for that center because it is a ‘Hub of Hope.’ I know Mayor Andy Ginther—who is here today—is continuing that work, and as a result, the future is brighter for that community and for this city.

“The themes this morning are “cooperation, peace, acceptance, and caring.” All are a part of Dr. King’s legacy, of course, and all are related. Dr. King once said famously, ‘true peace is the presence of justice.’

“In a time of too much violence in our streets, in our homes, and in our communities, I think we can achieve more peace by working for justice—by working for fairness. And I think we can do that through the acceptance, caring, and cooperation that Dr. King talked about. That’s certainly what Dr. King did.

“He was so committed to these principles and was so opposed to violence and hatred that he rejected retaliation even when that meant enduring harassment, threats, and beatings.

“He was jailed 29 times. When he was just 26 years old, his own house was bombed. What did he do? He stepped out in his neighborhood and told the angry crowd that was gathering there, ‘we cannot solve this problem through violence.’ That’s what he said. He said instead we must speak truth to power and he did stand up to the times.

“It’s a powerful example and a witness that still speaks to us today. It always will. It was by that example that Dr. King was able to change the hearts of millions and millions of Americans and open them to acceptance, caring, and cooperation.

“Each of us has a role to play in continuing to fight for justice.

“For me as a Senator, I think part of what I can do is to help stand up for those who do not have a voice, like the drug-addicted and their families, the incarcerated person who wants a second chance, or the victim of human trafficking.

“That’s why I’ve focused on passing laws like the Second Chance Act, or legislation like the Drug-Free Communities Act, which has brought tens of millions of dollars to our home state of Ohio for anti-drug coalitions. That’s why I authored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which President Obama signed into law only a few months ago. That’s why Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and I have worked to combat human trafficking. And even in the last week, I have taken on websites that sell women, and children, and girls like they are property.

“So many of you are involved in issues of justice and compassion. I mentioned Jerry and Tracy turning the tide on the heroin and prescription drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities. Demetries Neely and the Kings Arts Complex are providing a safe and educational place for kids on the east side. We thank them. President Michael Drake who spoke earlier is improving education access, affordability, and of course excellence at The Ohio State University, giving kids a clear path to the American dream. I could go on and on.

“By the way, you don’t have to be the president of a university or an elected official to work for a better, more just world. Dr. King didn’t run for office. Instead, he taught, and lived out, an ethic of love and compassion that truly changed hearts. And when hearts change, laws tend to change too.

“If, day by day, we live out acceptance, caring, and cooperation in our communities, we will make the world more peaceful, because it will be a world that is more just. Thank you.”