So many in my parents' generation – and our own – never thought we'd see an African-American elected president of this country. Now, we have not only been blessed to see that day, but, on Jan.21 – the same day that our nation paused to acknowledge the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – we witnessed President Obama accept a second term.
What a tremendous honor it was to witness that historic moment.
Our nation celebrated the legacy of a great American who gave his blood, sweat, tears and life to advance a better future for generations unborn – and we reaffirmed our faith in a president who, I believe, personifies the very substance of Dr. King's dream.
Yet, we should remember this time as far more than a footnote in the history books. As a man of faith, I am compelled to believe that this timing is more than mere coincidence.
Rather, this is a seminal moment for us all.
This is an opportunity for this generation to be inspired by the aspirations of those who came before us. There is still much left undone.
President Obama remains uniquely positioned to help our nation realize the tenets of humanity and equality of which Dr. King could only dream – and I hope that the Congress will work with our president to transform our public discourse during his second term.
We must refocus our conversation and our efforts upon policies that truly speak to the center of our people’s lives – creating jobs; increasing and expanding access to effective, efficient and affordable healthcare; and strengthening our educational system so that all of our children can succeed.
This challenge is not about partisan agendas. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats.
This is about doing what's right – and our survival as a free and prosperous people.
No society – whatever the ethnicity or stations in life of its people – can survive and thrive in the absence of viable systems of economic development, healthcare and education.
I also hope that our President will resist efforts to degrade Social Security benefits and Medicare coverage during his second term.
Many Social Security beneficiaries – especially those from minority and poor communities – have only their Social Security benefits on which to live. They have no pensions, nor savings, nor 401(K) plans. Now, in the wake of the recession, far too many have neither a house nor a job.
When we consider their struggles to afford health care, increases in the cost of living and less affordable Medicare premiums – as well as diminished access to quality care – a humane nation must care for a generation marching toward shorter, sicker lives.
Instead of protecting the future of our senior citizens, there are some who would make our country more solvent on their backs.
America – the nation of Dr. King and President Obama – must do better than that.
Liberty and justice for all Americans will require that we be better than that.
Finally, all Americans who cherish democracy must remain vigilant. Our 21st Century civil rights movement to expand and preserve our voting rights is not over. Indeed, it has just begun.
Last November, a concerted campaign to suppress the votes of the elderly, the poor, students, Hispanics, and African-Americans was defeated. Record numbers turned out to vote, many withstanding arduous trials just to cast their ballots for President Obama.
Long lines, hours-long waits, and state-imposed restrictive voter ID laws all threatened to rob many of our countrymen and women of their votes.
A strategic, nationwide effort to remove early voting opportunities was launched, attacking the bedrock of the African-American voting tradition. Early voting hours in many states, like Ohio and Florida, were all but eliminated – and, where those schemes were not successful, it appeared that some organizations stepped in with aggressive poll monitoring techniques to attack President Obama and our aspirations.
So, now is not the time to become complacent. Now is not the time to waver in our efforts to fight voter suppression.
We can do better as a nation in upholding this fundamental Constitutional right – and with the President’s leadership, we can preserve this democratic right and power for generations yet to come.
Today, as in the past, our marching orders are clear.
In April 1960, Dr. King gave the Founders Day address at Spelman College. He closed his remarks, entitled “Move from this Mountain,” by reading Langston Hughes’ poem, “Mother to Son,” and by offering this appeal:
“If you can't fly, run; if you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.”
History informs us that now, in our own time, we still must keep moving.
Dr. King and our forefathers and mothers passed the baton to President Obama – and to us all.
Now, it is up to us to stand for what's right.
We must not drop the baton.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.