Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. paved the way of peace, justice, pluralism, and civil rights on the global stage. We all owe Dr. King our deep gratitude for the ultimate sacrifices he made to lay the groundwork for freedom and equality for all, most especially at a time where the United States was marred with fatal and rampant racism that breathed so deeply within everyday society. It has been said that service is the rent you pay for living on our beautiful planet earth. The rent I pay in service is a tribute to Dr. King, which serves as a reminder that I must continue to lead the way in correcting injustices, leading fearlessly, and doing my part to serve both my country and global community. His success in helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 is a direct reflection of why I am serving in my current capacity. On a larger scale, walking in Dr. King’s legacy means I am doing right by my served communities and family. I am humbled to have the opportunity and responsibility to be a part of his enduring and indelible legacy.
Our robust diversity and continued progress towards inclusivity is the very thing that makes the United States thrive. Though our past and present has had uncomfortable—and at times, unbearable—pain and suffering, we know that we are not perfect. The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, and others whose lives deeply mattered to their loved ones and communities remind us that violence against African-Americans is still a problem our nation must reckon with and resolve. Other insidious examples of segregation and discrimination include redlining , healthcare inequality , and laws that have created economic, health , and judicial disparities persisting to this day.
As former President Barack Obama said , “This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.” For those individuals, nations, or regimes which challenge our own human rights record, we remind them that we do not hide the challenges of our history. We use them openly as forums for conversations and examples for other nations aiming to perfect their human rights and governance records during this Year of Action and beyond.
As we strive to form a more perfect union, we are doing so transparently for the world to see. We know we have a very long way to go in consistently upholding pillars of inclusion and justice for those who are repeatedly persecuted or wronged. We have also demonstrated that we have what it takes to do that. Upholding democracy promotes and protects all human lives and it is a core value of the United States. Though all nations around the world collectively deal with various forms of hate and injustice, the American people continue to work to address our flaws and shortcomings openly. Dr. King said it best: “…the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied with the destiny of America.” We continue to strive for the goal of protecting human rights both at home and abroad.
We can all honor Dr. King’s legacy by working within our communities to advocate for justice and peace. Here in the Department of State, African-American leaders whose public service shaped American diplomacy has enriched our institution. They include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ralph Bunche, Ambassadors Ruth Davis, Harry Thomas, Linda Thomas- Greenfield, and Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the late Secretary Colin Powell and Larry Palmer. However, with over 230 years of diplomacy under our belt, there has never been a woman of color to serve either as Spokesperson or Deputy Spokesperson until now. Being the first African-American woman to serve as Principal Deputy Spokesperson helps shape the way we perceive and enact our foreign policy, both now and for generations to come. We know societies worldwide are uplifted and advanced when women and minorities have a seat at the table. Honoring Dr. King’s legacy is something I do every single day—not just annually on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. My commitment to Dr. King’s legacy is to continue following his path of enduring justice, freedom, equality, and prosperity by using my work to advance society.
About the Author: Jalina Porter is the Principal Deputy Spokesperson for the Department of State.