Editor’s Note: Former State Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, delivered one of two keynote addresses at the 2017 Martin Luther King Day Prayer Breakfast, held in Midwest City, Oklahoma on January 16, 2017. This is the text, lightly edited, of his speech at the Reed Convention Center. – pbm
It is an honor for Linda and me to share this occasion with you as we reflect on the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the influence he had on our nation, state and community.
Having termed out of the Oklahoma Legislature last November, my wife and I were reflecting on the past twelve years in that role. I innocently asked her, “Honey, in your wildest dreams did you ever think we would do some of the things we did or see some of the places we have seen?” She quickly brought me back to reality as she informed me that I wasn’t even in her wildest dreams!
While attending Bethany Nazarene College I had a friend who told me he received his call to the ministry in a dream. He said bright lights flashed across the sky in his dream with the letters GPC. To him it was a clear sign from God he was to Go Preach Christ. Some years later I was visiting with one of the members of his first church assignment and he informed me the pastor misread the dream. It should have been taken as Go Plow Corn!
On August 28, 1963 Rev. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. This speech became a defining moment in the American Civil Rights Movement. In the speech Dr. King makes reference to a portion of the Declaration of Independence and closes with emphasis on the phrase “let freedom ring” taken from the song titled America. It is around those two thoughts I would like to direct our thinking this morning.
But first let me review some history to set the stage for my remarks. Separation from Great Britain occurred in 1776. For the first decade of our nation we were governed by the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were so weak and ineffective in dealing with the problems and challenges of the new union a call for change resulted in a gathering in Philadelphia in 1787. That gathering produced what we now know as the U.S. Constitution. The preamble of the Constitution states: “We the people of the United States in Order to form a more perfect Union,"… and ends with …do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”
Twice in the preamble reference is made to “United States” which would indicate equal sovereigns created the national government. It would also indicate an intense desire to address problems of that day and establish a journey of building “a more perfect union.” It was only after a hard fought ratification process and the promise that a “bill of rights” would be added that the Constitution was adopted.
We look back and readily see there were many opportunities for leadership on this journey “to build a more perfect union.” In fact, our core document has been changed 27 times. Because these changes happened a long time ago it is too easy to take for granted the Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery, the granting citizenship and voting rights to former slaves, the right to vote to women and 18 year olds, the abolition of poll taxes, and the District of Columbia’s participation in Presidential elections.
In spite of the herculean effort by leaders in each of those movements to add amendments inequality still existed and that needed to change. In front of the Lincoln Memorial, one hundred years after the civil war amendments (13, 14, and 15) were added to the Constitution, Dr. King set the stage for action to be taken with his I Have a Dream speech. There was no need to wait any longer. No more time to pretend problems did not exist.
In the stage version of the musical “Sound of Music” we hear these two lines, “a song is not a song unless you sing it” and “a bell is not a bell until you ring it.” I would submit to you this morning that “a dream is not a dream until you act upon it!” Dreaming without action is called “daydreaming.” Nobody gets hurt but nobody gets helped either. The words Dr. King offered in his I Have a Dream speech called for action. His leadership at that moment in our nation’s history set in motion forces still at work today.
Now from the Declaration of Independence… “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,…”
Early in Dr. King’s message he said, “When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men — yes, black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.” He then launched into a systematic review of what needed to be changed and a challenge of action to make it happen.
It is the Creator who gives us our unalienable Rights. Much has been written and spoken about these rights, especially life and liberty. It is Pursuit of Happiness I would challenge you to think about this morning. It was 18th century philosopher John Locke who coined the phrase of life, liberty, and property. Thomas Jefferson changed the word property to pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.
Man was made by the Creator to be productive, to produce. When that happens there is a certain degree of satisfaction or fulfillment that accompanies accomplishments or productivity. It is a natural by-product of action given to us by the Creator. No person, no government can take that unalienable right from you.
At the same time Dr. King was causing the nation to focus on the inequality rampant in the American culture, there were three women of color challenging the status quo in the work place at NASA’s space program’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson excelled at their place of work in spite of the institutional bias against their gender and race. Their personal story of struggle, long overdue for recognition, is featured in the current showing of the film entitled, “Hidden Figures.” It is a must see! What does their story have to do with our thoughts today?
Let me offer another example. Let’s say a long time ago you began giving blood to the Oklahoma Blood Institute. One donation is not much. You repeat the process 56 days later with another donation. With each donation you express an attempt to help someone in need. You continue that routine for 30 years and next July you complete 18 gallons of donations. Does that make you better than anyone else? No. What you get is a sense of accomplishment of having done something significant. You have been productive in helping your fellow man. That, my friend, is “property” or pursuit of happiness given to you by the Creator. No government can take it away.
What Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson were doing for the outer-space program in the early 1960s Dr. King was doing for inner space relations. What each of them accomplished produced a great sense of satisfaction or happiness knowing they had made a difference in the lives of those generations who would follow their lead.
Not too long ago Linda and I were leaving Jimmy’s Egg after breakfast and I stopped to speak to a gentleman wearing a veteran hat. Without fanfare I just wanted to thank him for his service to the nation. I shook his hand and expressed thanks. His wife looked at me with a puzzled look and said, “you’re somebody, aren’t you?” I said, “Yes, I am somebody and so are you!” I told her my name and the light came on in her expression and she said, “That is who I thought you were.”
The truth is each of us is somebody. Today we celebrate some very special “somebodys” but there are hundreds, even thousands of somebodys who have given us what we enjoy today.
Many somebodys at the space program have contributed to giving us advances in technology applied to modern medicine, weather tracking, transportation, communications, and GPS.
Dr. King heads the list of many somebodys in our nation’s history who have given us a self-governing republic based on the principles of the worth and dignity of the individual, equality of opportunity, majority rule with minority rights, and the process of governing that makes it possible to peacefully modify our system in pursuit of a “more perfect union.”
There is another group who has made our gathering possible today. That is the role our veterans play in defending our way of life. These citizen soldiers take the oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution, serve and then return to their homes to build families, communities, states, and a nation. They don’t wear a jersey. They don’t make posters of them for you to hang on your bedroom wall. They wear the uniform of our nation and they deserve our respect. For the past seven years a dedicated group of Mid-Del volunteers have provided leadership for an organization called Oklahoma Honor Flights. OHF was established in 2009 to address the challenge of recognizing the World War II generation before their time on earth expired. Beginning with a flight on May 17, 2010 OHF coordinated details for 24 charter flights that took 2,055 Oklahoma veterans on an all-expense paid day visit to Washington, D.C. to view the Memorial built to honor their service and sacrifice.
One of those who made a flight is with us ... is James Mason. His daughter, Paula Mason, went with him as his guardian for the day. Unknown to James, arrangements were made for him to be greeted in D.C. by his grandson, E.J. Mason, an Air Force Captain deployed to Yemen. What a special reunion day that was for the Mason family. James Mason represents all those who were recognized with a flight. He more importantly represents the more than 16 million who defended the world against despotic rule during World War II.
[Rep. Banz asked members of the audience to hold their applause until all introductions were made.] Paula Mason please stand and represent your father and allow us to honor him and his colleagues of the Greatest Generation for their service to our nation.
Now, would all who are currently serving in the military or who have ever served please stand and be recognized.
Finally, all who have a member of your extended family currently on active duty deployed around the world please stand. [The audience then applauded.]
“Hidden Figures” became an integral part of the team that explored the outer reaches of space. Space measured in distance of miles and light years. Dr. King was a catalyst for change in closing the inner gap between those citizens fully vested in the self-governing process and those left on the margins without hope of inclusion. What is our mandate today? What can I do today to ensure future generations have a secure opportunity to pursue their dreams?
In closing his I Have a Dream speech Dr. King sounded the clarion call to ring the Liberty Bell. The time was right to ring the bell of freedom. Self-determination in our Republic is not a spectator sport. It requires every “somebody” to participate. To an audience in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957 Dr. King made this statement, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” Ring the bell of freedom for others in your home. Ring the bell of freedom for others at your place of work. Ring the bell of freedom for others in the public square. Make your mark by helping close the gap that divides. Find your place and make a difference. It is your unalienable right. It is the only way you find true happiness. Somebody is counting on you!
In the Living Bible the scripture is clear about how we go about relating to one another. Chapter 6 of the book of Proverbs states the Lord hates haughtiness, lying, murdering, plotting evil, eagerness to do wrong, a false witness and sowing discord among brothers. In Galatians 5:13 the Apostle Paul wrote, “For, dear brothers, you have been given freedom: not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to love and serve each other.” Later in the same chapter he says there is no law against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These fruits of the Spirit are what should guide our every effort. Feel free to practice each of them without restriction.
This is the day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it! I trust our paths will come together again as we each live out our “pursuit of happiness.” We have work to do for others!
See you there.