UPPER MARLBORO, MD – Yesterday morning, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) delivered remarks at the 39th annual Black History Month Breakfast. He joined keynote speaker Congresswoman Val Demings (FL-10), Congressman Anthony Brown (MD-04), and hundreds of Fifth District residents and community leaders at today’s event. Below is a transcript of his remarks:
“I am pleased that Val agreed to join us, and I will try to be as brief as I can, but there are some important things to say. First of all, I want to thank our sponsors. I want to thank all of those who contribute to making this breakfast possible, to making sure this – what I call a ‘revival’ – possible, so that we focus not only on what has been done, but what needs to be done.
“I want to thank [Congressman] Anthony Brown. I want to thank the [Black History Month Breakfast Celebration Planning] Committee for all they do and Chairwoman [Jackie] Rhone and everybody on that committee. Betty Richardson, who is always there, all the time, and in every way, thank you so much…
“As you know, I’ve walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge about 16 times with John Lewis, [and] about half of those times [I was] holding John’s hand. I want you to pray for John. John is facing a health challenge, as some of you know. And I want you to tonight and every night, or every morning, or whenever you choose to bow your head and ask the good Lord to keep John Lewis in the palm of his hand.
“I was with him on the Floor. Anthony and I talked to him. Val was there as well, and you would not be surprised: he was fighting the good fight as he has done all of his life. And, if he were here – and he was one of our speakers, as you saw on the program – he was one of our speakers. John would say these are tough times that we confront. He would say that I walked across a bridge so that we could register to vote, and I was met with almost being killed. He would say to all of us: [there are] two things you’ve got to do.
“First of all, as Betty Hewlett has reminded us, we need to fill out that Census form. Now, we have some folks that, frankly, this Administration tried to scare about not signing that. You don’t have to be a citizen. The Founding Fathers said that they wanted everyone counted. Not every American. They didn’t say everybody who was born here or Europe. They said every person who lives here they want to be counted. So, I would urge all of you to tell every neighbor, every friend, every organization you know [to] fill out that form. Because if you’re not counted, you won’t count. We need to fill that out because our counties, all of the five counties I represent, will be underfunded in terms of the money we send to Washington that we expect to get back for law enforcement, for firefighters, for CDBGs, for sewer and water – all sorts of things from money we get back from government that we sent there to help us make our communities better. So, we need to make sure that everybody needs to fill out that form. And, you tell them: Hoyer said that form will not be used in any way to come after them, to try to kick them out of the country, or to undermine their job or their freedom here in America. You tell them that, you tell them that.
“I want to say, how pleased I was as well, that our judges are here as well. I want them to stand up one more time. Our sitting judges are a real asset to us. Judge Curry, Judge Terrack, Judge Kelsey, Judge McCarthy, and Judge Barron Marriano… I am very much for them… Kim [Rhim], thank you for MC’ing this breakfast. You’re doing so in a very, very good way. I know that he was already introduced as well, but I want to introduce him again because he knows our speaker well and is, like her, a Chief of Police of a very large jurisdiction. Chief [Henry] Stawinski III. Chief, thank you very much for being here. Chief, I want to tell you this: Chiefs have a tough job. I am a very big supporter of our men and women in uniform whether they wear a uniform of the fire service or police. Our domestic defenders. Like everybody, they are not all perfect. And Chief, I want to congratulate on the courage and rapidity of which you responded to… a killing in our community. You showed a lot of courage, a lot of leadership. Thank you very much. Let’s hear it for Chief Stawinski.
“Of course, you heard Pastor Peebles. I love her. Her husband is here, Joel. He knows that I’ve known her for a long time, when she was 18 years of age. That was 10 years ago. God Bless you! I want to thank Pastor [Delonta] Hicks and Pastor [Ranesa] Mayo for being here. I want to thank the Bowie State [Gospel] Choir as well, and for the Largo [High School] JROTC for presenting our colors. I am pleased to join Congressman Brown in sponsoring this breakfast. I want to thank the Planning Committee for working with us.
“This year, our theme for Black History Month is ‘African Americans and the vote.’ I talked about counting in terms of filling out a form, but counting is also critical because if you don’t vote, you don’t count. If you don’t count, your country may not be all that you want it to be.
“…You heard that I was elected in 1966. Some of you in this audience were supporting me. [Maryland State Senator] Joanne C. Benson was supporting me in 1966. And I’ve supported her every day since, and she’s supported me every day since. God bless you, Joanne C. Benson… A lot of you in this room saw this skinny white kid come into your neighborhood and knock on the door and you said, ‘what the hell is he doing here.’ And I asked for your vote, and I said if you voted for me, I would keep the faith. The big issue, Val, in 1966 was fair housing. We had the Voting Rights Act; we had public accommodations; but the big issue here in Prince George’s County was fair housing. Some people thought you didn’t need to sell you house to somebody who had plenty of money, they can buy your house, but they were the wrong color. That was wrong in America, and that was a big issue. I won that election... I won it because of those doors I knocked on… That’s why I stand here before you as your U.S. Congressman and Majority Leader in the House of Representatives. Thank you.
“‘The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on the account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’
“Like the words in the Declaration of Independence: ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men’ – and surely we would add, all women. We passed [a resolution on] the ERA through the House of Representatives on Thursday. Another commitment to making sure that we have a better union, a more perfect union, a more inclusive union – men and women, people of color, people of different religions and nationalities and languages [are] all created equal in the eyes of God.
“The words I just read are, of course, the words of the Fifteenth Amendment, which enshrined in our Constitution the right of African American men. The right of African American men to vote.
“I said downstairs, we’re going to sing the anthem. ‘Facing the rising sun, a new day begun, let us march on until victory is won.’ Victory is not won. Everybody in our seats ought to understand, as we look back, victory has not been won. We’ve made extraordinary progress, but much remains to be done.
“This year, we mark not only 150 years since the Fifteenth Amendment’s ratification but also the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, which finally codified in our Constitution that the right to vote ‘shall not be denied or abridged …on account of sex.’ We offered that [resolution] on the [Equal Rights] Amendment on Thursday, because of Jackie Speier, Brenda Lawrence, and other co-sponsors, and we passed it. It should have been passed unanimously. On the Floor, I said, do you want to call your wife, or your mother, or your daughter, or your sister and say that she’s not equal? Do you want to go home and look her in the eye and say: In America, you’re not equal? Unfortunately, it did not pass unanimously, but it did pass handily and is now in the United States Senate. We ought to urge Senator McConnell to put that bill on the Floor, so that we can rearticulate that commitment that all people are created equal.
“It would take generations of hard work to bring about real change and achieve the victories of the Civil Rights Movement that finally turned the right to vote into the ability to vote. The right to vote into the ability to vote and then into the vote itself. Cesar Chavez… said, we don’t need a perfect system. We need perfect participation. Hear me. Raise your hand if you’re going to participate… These are serious times, folks. This is not the time to fool around. This is not time to look down and kick the dirt. This is the time to participate, and the way we participate is we vote. Now, if you think everything is fine in America, don’t sweat it.
“The victories and the energies and passion of grassroots activists and inspirational leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis, and Dorothy Height, and thousands of courageous others – they sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears and for many of them, their lives. And even those victories that they won are not secure.”
“Today, as a result of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Shelby v. Holder ruling, the protections of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act are no longer fully in force. And once that decision was passed, we saw in North Carolina, in Texas, and in other states a reversal, a retreat from the commitment to full voting. In many states, new and restrictive voting rules are raising barriers for African Americans and other minorities from being able to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. That’s why Rep. Brown and I voted for legislation last year on the Voting Rights Act. It is pending in the Senate. It needs to pass the Senate. It simply says that we will make sure that every American not only has the right, but is facilitated – not just the right, not just not preventing, but to encourage, to assist, to give sufficient times as we do in early voting for people to vote and participate in our system. That Voting Rights Act says that the federal Justice Department has the power to prevent such rules from blocking access to the ballot. Those are rules that make it harder to vote. It stays unconsidered in the U.S. Senate.
“It’s also why we worked with our colleagues to pass H.R. 1, [the] For the People Act, which dealt with voting rights, dealt with redistricting, dealt with campaign finance reform. John Sarbanes was the leader on that. And it’s why we are working hard to promote participation in the 2020 Census – I mentioned that in the beginning; I mention it again because it’s so important.
“Rep. Brown and I, along with our House Democratic colleagues, including Val Demings, who is a real leader in the Congress of the United States, not only in the Congressional Black Caucus, I’m saying a real leader in the Congress and a real leader in the country that you are about to hear from. We are committed to doing everything we can to make the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments a reality, not just rhetoric. We will not waver in that mission.
“Now, ensuring voting rights also includes protecting the integrity of our elections. We don’t want the Russians meddling around in our elections. We don’t want any other country messing around in our elections. We are America. This is our democracy. Anybody who encourages foreign governments to undermine our democracy and encourages participation in our elections in a negative way should be held accountable.
“In addition to making certain that every eligible American can cast a ballot, we must be sure that our elections are free from foreign interference. That’s why the House took the historic step of impeaching President Trump… The case was made, and you’re going to hear from one of the people who made that case.
“We have many grievances against the White House, not in a partisan sense, but in a policy sense, in the sense that the Justice Department needs to be independent. The Justice Department needs to represent the American people. The Justice Department is not Donald Trump’s lawyer. The Justice Department cannot call up a judge and say that’s how we’re going to sentence. The Justice Department cannot call up an Attorney General and say this is how you’re going to recommend. That’s not America. It may be Russia, it may be China, it may be other dictatorial countries, but it is not America.
“And when we sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial, we choose from among our Members seven talented, bright, and respected managers to try this case. They presented the evidence, and they proved their case. Last year, we heard from one of those seven impeachment managers, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. Not only an extraordinary speaker, but an extraordinary member of the House of Representatives. And one of those seven impeachment members was also Rep. Val Demings. Speaker Pelosi appointed those managers and she appointed them on criteria of ability, integrity, ability to communicate a message, and also an involvement in law enforcement and also an understanding of why America is so great: because we are, in fact, a nation of laws. Not even the President of the United States is above those laws.
“Let me say something that I’m proud of. I went down to Florida… I saw this lady in Washington, DC, and all the time I said run for Congress… You’ve got to run to Congress, you’ll be fantastic in the Congress… She grew up in Jacksonville. She shared a two-room house with her parents and six older siblings. Her mother worked as a maid and her father as a janitor, and Val got her first job at the age of fourteen. It was from watching police programs on television that she developed an interest in justice and law enforcement. Pursuing that passion, she earned a B.S. in Criminology from Florida State University and then a Master’s in Public Administration… After serving as a social worker early in her career, Val moved to Orlando to join the police force. It wasn’t easy for an African American woman in the ‘80’s to join the force, and, perhaps I would say in the 2020s. Hear me. ‘Nevertheless,’ as they say, ‘she persisted.’ She persisted…Over the course of a twenty-seven-year career with the Orlando Police Department, Val served in nearly every department and rose to become its first-ever female Chief of Police in 2007, as Anthony [Brown] said.
“That’s why I asked her every time to run, because she was one of the most respected leaders in her community. I knew if she ran, she would win. And she ran, and she won. Under her watch, violent crime fell by more than 40 percent. She launched innovative programs in community policing, including a mentorship program for at-risk students, a job-skills training program, and the construction of new playgrounds in some of the highest-crime areas. That’s what she did as a law enforcement leader... In 2016, she ran for Congress, and, as I predicted, won. Now, she serves on the House Judiciary Committee, the [House] Intelligence Committee, and the [House] Homeland Security Committee. All law-enforcement centric. What an extraordinary asset she is for our community as well as she is for her community.
“We are honored to have her here as our keynote speaker, joining a list of distinguished past speakers that includes, as you know, Barack Obama, Loretta Lynch… Elijah Cummings, John Lewis, Donna Brazile, Kweisi Mfume, Dr. Carla Hayden, Lonnie Bunch... So, I am pleased welcome her to my county, to our district. Anthony is pleased to welcome her to his district and the counties that he represents. We know her, we like her, we respect her, and we love what she does for our country. Ladies and gentlemen, Congresswoman Val Demings!”