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Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Remarks

Good evening! Welcome to Colorado College! 

Please join me in thanking the choir for those beautiful selections. What a wonderful way to begin this special evening!

Tonight, we gather to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  And as we celebrate this national holiday, we are called by Dr. King’s legacy to continue working together to realize our nation’s commitment to freedom and human rights in the twenty-first century. As Dr. King said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

President Ronald Reagan signed the King Holiday bill into law on November 2, 1983, but not without controversy, and almost 20 years after the passage of the landmark Voting and Civil Rights acts.  Some members of Congress opposed the King Holiday.  North Carolina’s Jesse Helms tried to derail the bill by claiming King had ties to the communist party.  Other opponents argued the fiscal cost of creating a national holiday in King’s name would be too high, to which Senator Bob Dole rejoined: how do you calculate “the cost of 300 hundred years of slavery followed by a century or more of economic, political, and social exclusion and discrimination.”   

What those opponents failed to acknowledge, and what is critical to remember today – the inauguration day of our nation’s president as well as MLK Day - is Dr. King’s commitment to human freedom, with its deep-rooted connection to the values and obligations established more than 200 years ago by America’s founders.  The new nation forged out of thirteen British colonies in the late eighteenth century championed human rights and liberty.  Dr. King, and the civil rights advocates before him, embraced this important tradition, speaking the language of freedom and equality that is at the heart of America’s founding and the ideals of the Enlightenment. 

This was the American dream that Dr. King reminded 250,000 people about on a baking summer’s day in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.  America’s future, in 1776, in 1963, and today in 2013, the 30th anniversary of the King holiday, will always be full of promise when we embrace human freedom and respect human rights.

Tonight we come together to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and we celebrate with an internationally known artist and leader and with dance! We welcome Cleo Parker Robinson and the Cleo Robinson Dance Troupe.

Cleo Robinson is the founder, executive artistic director and choreographer of this wonderful company. She has conducted master classes, workshops and performances all over the world, and equally importantly, has been a community leader in Denver for more than 40 years, where she has made the highest caliber of dance accessible to the local community.

Acknowledged worldwide as a dance pioneer and legend, Cleo Robinson has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Colorado Governor’s Award for Excellence, the Denver Mayor’s Award, and induction into both the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame and the Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame. 

She has also received the Civil Rights Award of the Anti Defamation League, the Metropolitan State College of Denver’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award for Service to the Community, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. / William “Bill” Roberts Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver.

In 2005, Ms. Parker Robinson was awarded a Kennedy Center Medal of Honor and in 1998 she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Council on the Arts, on which she continued to served until 2005.

Ms. Parker Robinson has also received a number of honorary doctorates, including one (the best one) from Colorado College.

Ms. Parker Robinson often says that her work reflects her philosophy of "one spirit, many voices".  In many ways, that philosophy is reflective of Dr. King’s philosophy. Our spirit  - that of our country, our state, our city - is stronger when many voices are heard.

We are fortunate to have her with us on this special day. Please join me in welcoming Cleo Parker Robinson.