The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation held its 7th Annual Leaders of Democracy Luncheon on Sept. 14. The organization used this event to recognize Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), District Mayor Vincent Gray (D), U.S. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) and Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange, a civil rights organization. Harry Johnson, president of the foundation, noted that the event took place during the week of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference and thought it was appropriate.

“The members of the Congressional Black Caucus are the conscience of the Congress,” he said. “We look to you for guidance and leadership and you provide that for us.”


Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley accepts his award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation.

U.S. Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) participated in the event. Other well-known leaders in the audience included former Essence Magazine editor-in-chief Susan Taylor; Cornell Brooks, the president and chief executive officer of the NAACP; Lorraine C. Miller, the former interim president and CEO of the NAACP; National Urban League President Marc Morial; and Georgetown University scholar Michael Eric Dyson.

Cummings and Edwards presented O’Malley with his award. Cummings praised O’Malley for supporting the state’s financial contribution to the King Memorial, the only state to do so. The governor said that it was right thing to do. “When my budget director questioned whether we could make the contribution, pointing out that other states have not done so, I said that this is not about other states, this is about the United States,” O’Malley said.

Green said that the issues King fought for are still ongoing, using the recent unrest in Ferguson as an example. “A threat to justice in Ferguson is a threat to justice in Houston,” he said. “I am happy to accept this award and I will work to eliminate injustice everywhere.”

Johnson said that Gray stood behind him in 2011 when the memorial’s formal opening was delayed first by an earthquake and then Hurricane Irene. Gray, whom O’Malley referred to as the “governor of the State of New Columbia,” thanked the foundation for his award and said that it was ironic that King fought for full citizenship for all Americans but District residents lack representation in the U.S. Congress. “America needs to stand up for its citizens,” the mayor said. “You cannot support democracy all over the world and not bring democracy to our nation’s capital.”

Noted journalist Jeff Johnson emceed the event and introduced Robinson. Robinson said modern communication tools can fuel the fight for justice. “We at ColorOfChange are giving everyday people a voice in democracy using social media,” he said.