AME Baltimore Annual Conference
Bethel AME, Baltimore, Maryland
April 10, 2010
I want to give honor to God for the beauty of this day, and the blessings in my life. I want to thank you, Reverend Dr. Frank Reid, so much for welcoming me to your beautiful church. It is a humbling honor to join you today, and to be a part of the AME Annual Conference.
I want to recognize a few of the many distinguished people here today: Presiding Prelate Bishop Adam J. Richardson; Episcopal Supervisor Mrs. Connie Speights Richardson; Presiding Elder Montague; Host Pastor, Reverend Dr. Ricky Spain; and all of the people of faith at the Baltimore Annual Conference, the oldest conference in the United States on the AME Church.
My six minutes are up, God bless you and have a good – (laughter). I wore my purple AME tie for mercy and indulgence today, knowing being raised Roman Catholic that politicians at the pulpit draw lightning. Amen.
I really do want to thank the AME Church, all the people of faith here and at home for what we we’ve done over these last four very difficult years. And sometimes we focus on the economic misery and the pain of our neighbors, as well we should and as well we must, because the suffering is great, the displacement is great, and the economic distress has not been greater since the so-called Great Depression. So we will get through this.
But I wanted to thank you for your work in pushing forward the work of the Census. That notion that every person in our country counts, there’s no such thing as a spare American. We all need to be counted. So I thank you for that, number one.
But I thank you for something else as well. Our State passed some sweeping foreclosure prevention legislation a few years ago, trying to get ahead of the wave that we saw coming. Because of that work, because of the dollars we’ve invested in nonprofit housing counseling, we’ve actually been able to help more Marylanders avail themselves of modifications, particularly now that we have a new President of the United States who is standing up for the working people of our country.
But too often, those calls for help receive nothing but the hand from big mortgage servicing giants. So as we speak, the General Assembly is in session on legislation that the AME has been helping us push for mandatory mediation. That is to say, a new law that will not allow them not to pick up the phone when a family is calling. We believe, as a people, that if these big faceless mortgage servicing giants can pick up the phone to put a family into a home, they should have to pick up the phone before they throw a family out of their home.
So I thank you and hopefully that will pass soon. And every home we save is an important home.
Let me share just a couple thoughts with you. I don't know what it is about coming to Bethel that brings Thomas Aquinas up to mind, but as I was reading today, I came across this beautiful quote from Aquinas in a book by Thomas Merton called The Ascent To Truth, and I wanted to share it with you as a way of sort of framing who we are and, more importantly, where we’re going.
And it’s attributed to Aquinas, he said, "The burning fire of love is the source of all light and it is through the burning of that fire that we come to know the truth." That we come to know the truth.
Over these last four difficult years we have – through our actions, through our faith in one another, through our belief that tomorrow can be a better day, notwithstanding the economic adversity that we are facing, with God's grace and one another – we have made some tremendous strides.
Two of the clearest barometers on the progress for many people has to be public safety and public education. Despite the economic pain, when the latest numbers came out – the numbers that track violent crime in our State and every state and they're verified by the FBI – Bishop Richardson, these numbers show that we, together, have driven violent crime down to its lowest levels in the State of Maryland since the counting of these things began in this system in 1975. The lowest level since 1975.
What that means in terms of real human beings is that compared to four years ago, 111 fewer people were murdered in our State this year compared to the last year. So far this year in the State of Maryland, we have buried two children who died violent deaths. At the same time last year, seventeen.
Every life is important. There is no such thing as a spare American.
Our State – even with the adversity, even with the deficits, even with the revenue shortfalls, we hung together and made the investments necessary so that our State, for the first time in the midst of this recession, was named the number one public school system in the United States of America. (Applause.)
And that has happened two years in a row. And the undercurrent of that, less reported, is the fact that the historic achievement gap between wealthy children and poor children, we are closing that decisively and steadily every single year. We have doubled, over a four-year period of time, the number of African American students in the State of Maryland, who are actually scoring at college level on AP exams in high school. Doubled it in a four year period of time.
But there are many other things, Bishop Richardson, that are burning in that fire that are not noticed, but I know the AME has noticed them. They are those embers that have allowed us to create a pathway for the restoration of voting rights for those that were captives and those that were prisoners.
It's our efforts, even before the President's courageous step in healthcare for all, you and I in these difficult times extended healthcare coverage to heal the sick to 141,000 people that did not have it three years ago.
And 78,500 of them are children, who had no choice in what their parents' eligibility might be. And that also included the dental benefit for poor children, so no child in our State ever has to die for an inability to go have a toothache looked at.
Also burning in that fire is this, that we will for the first time hit our minority business development goals as the State of Maryland, for the first time this year – for the first time.
I leave you with these final thoughts and it is this – that I don't think any of us really know what the future holds. But we do know that there are some things that are constant in this world. That burning fire of love is a constant in the belief we share in the dignity of every individual, that's a constant. Our belief in our own responsibility to advance the common good. That is a constant.
Our understanding that there is a unity of spirit and matter, so what we do in our own lifetimes does matter. That one person makes a difference. That each of us must try.
Those are the things that stoke that fire of love. Those are the things that are the source of all light. Those are the things that bring knowledge to this world, of a higher truth. The truth that we are all in this together. That every person counts. And that God wants and needs the partial victories.
Thank you very, very much and congratulations. (Applause.)