Speech given by Khalil Edwards, Portland Black LGBTQ Activist

At an August 24, 2013 rally commemorating
the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington
Waterfront Park, Portland, Oregon

Transcribed by Carmen Cordis from an audio recording made
at the event by George T. Nicola

Khalil Edwards:

            Fifty years ago, the man who organized the march on Washington, an activist for civil and human rights, the man who taught Dr. King the nonviolent message of Gandhi – a man whose name many in this crowd may not know – spoke at the march on Washington.

 Khalil Edwards           Fifty years ago, that man did not speak as a proud, Black, gay man.  He spoke, in spite of the fact that he was Black, and gay, and proud.

            Bayard Rustin was brilliant, a mastermind, a trailblazer – and he was eventually pushed out of the Black civil rights movement, for living truly as himself.  It’s because of him that I stand here today, humbled and in gratitude.

            Fifty years later, Bayard Rustin has been honored by President Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is now recognized for the great contributions he made to our country.

            Because he lived out and proud, inspiring others to live fully, and work to change the world, I am able to stand here today: Black, gay, and proud.

            But being Black, gay, a male – that’s not all that defines me.  I am a son, an uncle, a caring person, a good friend, a hard worker, and a person working to make a difference in my community.

            I hold many identities all at once, as do we all.  Life does not function in simple constructs.  We are complex beings; it is our complexity that makes us special and unique.

            Fifty years ago, thousands of individuals, in all their complexities, came together for a common goal: justice.

            Even in their differences, they knew that all across the country, people were hurting, being oppressed, traumatized, marginalized, and dying.

            And they knew it was not okay, so they came together, and things got better, for a while.

            Today, we have been pushed backwards, and are fighting for many of the same things that they were fighting for fifty years ago.

            Some of the issues we are facing today have different faces, and some have the same.

            From Black, white, Mexican, Guatemalan, Korean, Chinese, Siletz, Somali, young, old, gay, straight, man, trans, woman, documented or not – we are hurting.  We are all hurting.  And it is not okay, and we cannot be okay with any of it?

            A hungry child is a hungry child.  A family in poverty is a family in poverty.

            No matter if it’s a single mom, or dad; two women raising three children; a grandmother caring for her grandkids – whatever our families may look like, we must claim the right to live our lives, honestly, as who we are, as people that care and fight for what is right.  Period.

            Audre Lorde said, and I quote, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.”

            This means I must fight for reproductive rights, as hard as I fight for immigration, as hard as I fight for economic justice, as hard as I fight against white supremacy, as hard as I fight against homophobia.

            When I take a moment to stop, and think, I know these issues are all connected to mine.  My issues are your issues.  Your issues are mine.  We must know this, and we must live it.

            Today can be a new day, only if we choose it to be.  As we look forward, I want us all to challenge ourselves and each other – challenge our collective humanity.

            It is time to recapture the spirit of ourselves, of fifty years ago, to discover the best of who we are, and embrace it.

            The core of ourselves is not a racist, homophobic person, a sexist or bigot, but at our core, we are decent human beings that believe we all deserve the right to live honestly, and completely, as our full selves.

            Dr. King said, “The moral arc of the universe always bends towards justice,” but what I know is that, sometimes, we have to push.

            In the words of Curtis Mayfield, “Now maybe someday, I’ll reach that higher goal.  I know that I can make it, with just a little bit of soul.  ‘Cause I’ve got my strength, and it don’t make sense not to keep on pushin’.”

            So I’m saying to you, keep on pushin’.  While we are pushin’, I call on each and any one of us, to challenge ourselves, to challenge our thinking, challenge our motives, our actions.

            Today, I ask you to say “yes” to the challenges we must meet in our struggle for social and economic justice.

            When I ask you to take up these challenges, I want to hear you answer, loud and clear with, “Yes, I will!”

KE: Will you challenge white supremacy?
Rally Advocates: Yes, I will!

KE: Will you challenge misogyny?
Rally Advocates: Yes, I will!

KE: Will you challenge transphobia?
Rally Advocates: Yes, I will!

KE: Will you challenge xenophobia?
Rally Advocates: Yes, I will!

KE: Will you challenge homophobia?
Rally Advocates: Yes, I will!

KE:      Leave here today with this: examining the words you use, questioning the thoughts you think, with total and complete faith in the human being you aspire to be.

            Leave here today with purpose in your heart that tomorrow will indeed be a new day.


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