Governor Deval L. Patrick
th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast
BCEC Boston
Monday, January 20, 2014

Thank you for that very warm welcome. And thanks to St. Cyprian’s and Union United for gathering us so faithfully on MLK Day for 44 years.

My colleagues at the head table, and brothers and sisters all, I am honored to be here this morning to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thanks to him, many of us work, study, live and play in settings that would have been unthinkable, in some cases even illegal, for our parents and grandparents. I think it takes a preacher to fully capture the impact of Dr. King, so I am looking forward to Ambassador Stith’s remarks and will keep mine short.

As most of you know, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I heard Dr. King speak. It was before a crowd in a park somewhere, and candidly, I don’t remember a single word he said. 

But as I have come over the years to read his writings and listen to his speeches (and oh, those are speeches to be listened to!), I am struck by how often he spoke of service. Like Christ himself, King understood servant leadership. His was a model of selfless leadership, of humility, of “outwardness.” The “Beloved Community” Dr. King envisioned, and helped us imagine, was a place where people took responsibility for each other, where we turned to each other rather than on each other. As he put it: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

I grew up in a community like that, the kind where every child was under the jurisdiction of every adult on the block. If you messed up in front of Ms. Jones, she would go upside your head – and then call home. So you’d get it twice.

I have described that environment so often that members of my staff (and some of you, perhaps) can quote it back to me. I’ve come to realize that people assumed Ms. Jones was a metaphor for caring adults on the block. So, I was delighted when, at a street re-naming ceremony on my old block last summer, Ms. Carrie Jones came toddling up to see what all the fuss was about. Of course, she’s only now the age I thought she was when I was a kid on the South Side.

She was more than just as curious as she had always been. She was just as caring. 

Which brings me back to Dr. King’s emphasis on service. His emphasis was not on the service of people in public office; it was not about of volunteers alone – all of which is important. Dr. King was about service not as what you do, but who you are. 

He said, “Everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to serve. You don’t have to be able to make your subject and your verb agree to serve ... You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”        

And this, for me, is the nub of it. Dr. King brought love into public discourse. Imagine that. When’s the last time you heard a public figure talk about love as the motivation for policy choices?

Dr. King understood that love is not a substitute for wise policy or effective programs, or for personal responsibility or moral rectitude or perseverance. Love is not an excuse. But without love it’s hard to make sense of compassion or common destiny or community itself.

We could use more of Dr. King’s message right now. We could use more love, out in the open, where it looks like justice. With so much want in the midst of so much plenty, with so much hurt in the midst of so much joy, with so much despair in the midst of so much hope, we could use more love in each of us for each of us.

I saw the Beloved Community with my own eyes, right here. In the aftermath of the Marathon bombings last April, I saw the spirit of kindness and common cause take hold. I saw us help the stranger and comfort and the afflicted. I saw us stay focused on healing each other and this community. I saw us turn to each other, when we could have easily turned on each other. I saw “hearts full of grace” and “souls motivated by love.”

And it’s my hope and prayer, on this MLK Day, that before I’m gone from this earth I see that kind of grace again, brought to bear to address the daily calamities all around us.

I came today to tell you that I still believe in Dr. King’s Dream. Dr. King’s Dream was “deeply rooted in the American Dream.” I have lived it. And I refuse to accept that the Dream is out of reach for others. Whether in this job or in my next, in public life or in private, I want to live my life as Dr. King did, with service motivated by love being more than what I do, but who I am.

Thank you and happy King Day.