Charleston, South Carolina -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at the Charleston Branch NAACP's 94th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet this evening at the North Charleston Convention Center. The theme of the banquet is “One Nation, One Dream.” Below are the Speaker's remarks as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you, Majority Whip Clyburn - a remarkable leader for Charleston, for South Carolina, and indeed, for the nation.
“Thank you, South Carolina, for your contribution to our national leadership: House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, and the distinguished Chairman of the Budget Committee John Spratt!
“And thank you, Charleston branch of the NAACP for the invitation to join your 94th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet!
“We are all so proud to be joined here tonight by NAACP's visionary, young leader: Ben Jealous. I take pride in both Ben's San Francisco and Baltimore roots.
“I come here tonight proud to be a member of the San Francisco branch of the NAACP. Last year, in honor of the NAACP's centennial anniversary, I was proud to speak at the national convention in New York City and was moved to become a golden heritage life member of the NAACP.
“As some of you know, I was raised in Baltimore. For much of my childhood, my father was the Mayor of Baltimore And when I was growing up, the names of our local NAACP leaders, including Enolia McMillan and Parren and Clarence Mitchell, were revered in our home.
“In Charleston, the names Dot Scott and Reverend Joseph Darby are similarly significant: they are leading one of the oldest, strongest, and most active NAACP branches in the nation - the Charleston Branch.
“I join you tonight in saluting your Freedom Fund Honorees; these young people give us great optimism for our future, and they inspire us to create opportunities for them to succeed.
“What a wonderful start it was to the evening to sing ‘America the Beautiful.' My favorite line is from the last verse:
‘O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years.'
“The NAACP sees beyond the years; you know that this evening's theme, ‘one nation, one dream,' means that we have a responsibility to create opportunity for the next generation.
“As Speaker, I have felt a responsibility to ensure that the halls of the United States Capitol reflect the diversity of the American dream. In just the last four years:
- We welcomed a bust of Sojourner Truth to the Capitol;
- We unveiled a portrait of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to serve in Congress;
- There is now a plaque in the Capitol recognizing the enslaved African Americans who helped build it;
- It was a privilege to award the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal - the highest honor Congress can bestow;
- We awarded the Gold Medal to Senator Edward Brooke - the first African American Senator since Reconstruction;
- Next year, we will honor Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King with the Gold Medal as well;
- And we are already at work on a statue of Rosa Parks that we will welcome to Statuary Hall as soon as it is completed.
- Next week in Congress, we will vote to name a post office in Washington D.C. after the legendary Dr. Dorothy Height. This will be the first time that a public building in our nation's capital is named for an African American woman.
“As we come together tonight, we know that many in our country feel great uncertainty about opportunity in America. They are worried about their hold on the middle-class; they wonder whether their children will have a brighter future. And they feel the reality of the growing disparity in income and ownership in this country.
“Our nation faces a choice: to keep moving forward, or to go backward to the failed policies of the past.
“Throughout its history, the NAACP has led our nation in moving forward. Now, we call upon your leadership again.
“Our visionary President, President Barack Obama, has said that we will measure our success by the progress made by America's families. With that in mind, we moved our nation forward with the Recovery Act - which has created or saved 3.3 million jobs already.
“In South Carolina, it's already meant more than $4.1 billion in contracts, grants, and loans: $45 million to Clemson University to test next generation wind turbines at the Charleston Naval Complex and put people to work in the clean, green jobs of the future; $2.6 million for Trident Technical College to increase the number of nurses and health care workers in the state; and the Recovery Act investments helped make South Carolina attractive to Boeing - which is going to create thousands of jobs right here in the Lowcountry.
“With the NAACP by our side, together, we passed historic health insurance reform.
“About health care reform, Ben Jealous said simply, it ‘is a matter of life and death.' African Americans have been twice as likely to be uninsured as the rest of the population; they have faced dramatically different health outcomes.
“But now, because of your determined advocacy, more than 32 million more Americans will soon have health insurance. We also addressed health disparities, and ended the days where you can be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.
“Because of Jim Clyburn's leadership, health insurance reform made a significant investment in community health centers - where many Charlestonians receive the care they need. Whip Clyburn insisted that we invest not only in programs, but in bricks and mortar so that they can serve more people than ever.
“The morning after the bill passed the House, President Obama called me to say he was happier than the day he was elected. I told him, ‘Mr. President, I'm very happy, but not happier than the day you were elected. Because if you hadn't been elected, this day would have never happened.'
“And in large part because of Jim Clyburn, when we passed health care reform we also passed Student Aid Reform and made the largest investment in college aid in our nation's history. We: eliminated taxpayer subsidies for banks and invested those dollars directly in students and parents struggling to pay tuition; dramatically expanded Pell Grants - which already provide more than $4 billion to African American college students each year; directly invested more than $2.5 billion in HBCUs - including every single one of the eight HBCUs in South Carolina.
“Small businesses have always been the backbone of economic prosperity in our nation. They are the engine of job and capital creation. For the 2 million African-Americans who own small businesses in this country, they represent blood, sweat, and tears.
“But in this economy, 45 percent of small businesses were unable to get the credit they need. That means in many cases it was even harder for African Americans.
“Just this week, we sent the President small business legislation that will unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for America's small businesses, create half a million jobs, and provide billions of dollars in tax relief. And it is paid for.
“We know there is a great deal left to be done. Too many Americans are out of work; too many children are living in poverty; and too many communities in our nation have disproportionately borne the brunt of this economy. Our democracy depends on a strong middle class.
“It is not enough to put people back to work. We must create jobs for those who have never had the opportunity to work. And we must work to end economic disparities that have existed longer than the current recession.
“To ensure America is number one, all Americans must have the tools they need to succeed. We must make a decision to address inequality in America.
“With the NAACP as our partner, we are going to move our country forward so that many more people are able to participate in the prosperity of America.
“That means extending tax cuts to the middle class, creating jobs here at home with our ‘Make It In America' initiative, and always, always preserving Social Security.
“Tonight, before I close, I want to salute the patriotism of the African American community; so many members of whom have bravely served or are serving our country in uniform.
“When the Tuskegee Airmen were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, I said that these men had fought two wars: one, against fascism. Another, against racism. We knew they were great airmen. Their patriotism, character, and courage proved that they are also great men.
“I know Mr. Clyburn was proud that several of these brave heroes are from the Charleston area.
“It is because of those who wear our nation's uniform that we are the home of the free and the land of the brave. And I am proud that we have made more progress over the last four years for our veterans and military families than has been made since the passage of the original GI Bill in 1944.
“The Tuskegee Airmen understood what you say: ‘one nation, one dream.'
“Their true heroism is that they fought for the values of America - equality, justice, and opportunity - even when those values were not fully extended to them.
“Let us continue to work together to achieve the ideal of equality that is our nation's heritage, and our hope. Let us work together to keep moving America forward.
“May God bless the NAACP. May God bless America.”