Media Room

MLK Skanner Breakfast
REMARKS AS PREPARED

January 15, 2018

Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you on this very special day to celebrate the 32nd Annual Skanner Foundation Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.

Thank you, Bobbie and Bernie Foster for continuing the legacy of Dr. King through this event and through your ongoing work to strengthen our community through the principles of justice, equality, and love.

In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. implored us to, “Realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

It bends toward justice.

Today-- given the incredibly divisive political climate-- it can be difficult to find hope in those words. But we must cling to them. 

We must remain committed to the task of building a more perfect union. One in which we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

And as we reflect on where we once were and where we now stand, it is evident that we still have further to go in order to realize Dr. King’s dream. 

He is remembered for his unwavering belief in justice, for his tenacity, and for his determined resolve. 

We see Dr. King’s legacy reflected in Oregonians like Justice Adrienne Nelson, who I recently appointed to Oregon’s Supreme Court.

Justice Nelson is a fierce, yet compassionate, civil rights champion. 

And as the very first African American to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court-- or any appellate court in Oregon for that matter-- she brings a powerful, new voice to the bench and a perspective that moves us closer to our shared vision of justice for all.

It will be because leaders and role models like Justice Nelson, that those in power and around the decision making table in Oregon’s future will better reflect the incredible diversity of our great state.

Her appointment to our state’s highest bench comes 115 years after another first: McCants Stewart. 

In 1903, he was the very first African American to become a member of the Oregon Bar Association. 

After graduating from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Mr. Stewart first began practicing law in my home state of Minnesota. 

He then-- against the advice of his father-- made the journey to Portland, Oregon in 1903.

Once here, Mr. Stewart, began practicing law. He was one of the first and one of the few at the time willing to represent people of color in Oregon. However, the highlight of his career was the case of Taylor v. Cohn, which was heard by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1906. 

The case involved a black porter who sued Portland’s Star Theater after management denied him seating because of his race. Mr. Stewart argued before the court that the government has an obligation to protect equal rights for black Oregonians and combat the norms of a segregated society. 

Our Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the patron’s theater ticket be refunded, but disappointingly fell short in recognizing the equal rights of black Oregonians. 

Think about the many different outcomes we would expect to see when we make the intentional effort to make our courtrooms and state capitol more reflective of our communities.

Everyday is a new opportunity to write a different story. Everyday, we each have the chance to be the dream that Dr. King described. 

And as we bravely face today’s new world, I hope these words by Dr. King give you as much hope as they do for me:

Afterall, as King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Thank you.