Posted by on August 26, 2013 in Blog

On Saturday, Arab American Institute Executive Director Maya Berry addressed tens of thousands of Americans from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  The march on the National Mall drew crowds in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, originally delivered on August 28, 1963.

In her speech, Maya reminded us that Arab Americans have been a part of the civil rights movement since the beginning, and though we have come a long way as a community and a nation over the past 50 years, there is a lot more to do to fully realize Dr. King’s vision for the country. She recalled the actions of Arab American civil rights activist and business owner Ralph Johns in 1960 who helped to conceive the "Greensboro Four" sit-in at the Woolworth counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Johns was instrumental in planning a successful sit-in in Greensboro, which sparked a national movement against segregation. Maya quoted Johns in her address: “My conscience bothered me, and it broke my heart to see this indignity heaped on a human being…I decided to do something about this wrong.” Citing stop-and-frisk and other intrusive law enforcement practices like the surveillance of Arab Americans and American Muslims by the NYPD, the Patriot Act, as well as the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act among other important current civil rights and civil liberties issues, Maya appealed to Arab Americans and to Americans across the country to continue fighting the injustices we face today – injustices and “new challenges Dr. King would not likely have anticipated.”  “Johns and the many Arab Americans like him who were part of the civil rights movement of the struggles on behalf of women, or immigrants or labor, were moved to action for a simple reason: they decided to do something about a wrong.”

In closing, she said: “We have come a long ways in 50 years, but there is much that remains to be done. Just as we stood together then, we stand together now. Just like our nations response to the civil rights movement was about our national character, so too is our response to today’s expanded challenge. Let us take this opportunity, this historic anniversary, to recommit ourselves to decide to do something about all that is wrong.”

Watch Maya’s Speech in full:

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