This year, I Have a Dream turns 50 years old. It is simply one of the best speeches of the 20th century if not of all time. Throughout the years, I often think about the prophetic words Dr. King delivered with such unwavering fortitude and conviction to a crowd of more than 250,000 who were drawn to the National Mall to hear him speak on August 28, 1963. I consider Dr. King one of my heroes. He is a visionary with the spirit and soul of a prophet; he forcefully and openly advocated for what we all hold so dear freedom, dignity, equality, a decent wage and ending poverty. Dr. King understood the power of the pulpit speaking out about injustice. He effectively accomplished this in his writings, especially his call to action in the moving and gut-wrenching 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Dr. King was a brilliant orator who touched our hearts with his insight into giant and important themes particularly in the The World House chapter of his 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? He writes: The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.
As we honor the timeless words of freedom and justice put forth so eloquently by this American legend, I am reminded of how I Have a Dream has resonated with me throughout the years. Dr. King in the speech notes: But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. It is that legacy of ensuring the vaults of opportunity do not go empty, which has guided me in my work to improve Rhode Island. This past summer on August 1 we became the tenth state to enact marriage equality. In May, I signed an Executive Order to promote diversity, equal opportunity, and minority business enterprises in our state. In addition, I fully supported and approved allowing undocumented students who immigrate to Rhode Island to pay in-state tuition rates at our public university and colleges. I have been steadfast in my commitment to make sure that all of our states students receive a quality education especially in our urban cores.
As you may remember, less than 24 hours after my swearing-in as Governor, I fulfilled my campaign promise and repealed E-Verify. The executive order allowed us to engage in a comprehensive dialogue with our immigrant communities, law enforcement agencies, and all interested parties. In October, affordable health-care choices will be made available for all Rhode Island individuals and families and small businesses through our health exchange, HealthSource RI, which is shaping up to be a model for the rest of the country.
All of these initiatives send a message well beyond our borders that Rhode Island is a great place to live and work. As you know, our state was founded on the principles of diversity and tolerance which is what Dr. King fought for and was the core of his I Have a Dream speech. In his words: We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off& . It is the fierce urgency of now that keeps me working hard and guides me in my efforts to move Rhode Island forward.
Lincoln D. Chafee