The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 19, 2004

President, First Lady Speak at African-American Clergy Spouses Luncheon
Remarks by the President and the First Lady at Luncheon with African-American Clergy Spouses
State Dining Room


      Martin Luther King, Jr. Proclamation

12:22 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all, please be seated. I have dropped by -- (laughter) -- because Laura told me to. (Laughter.)

First of all, I want to welcome you all to the people's house, and I am so glad you've come to celebrate this important national holiday with Laura. My job is to introduce her so she can give some remarks. But before I do so, first of all I want to say thanks from the bottom of my heart for what you and your husbands and your communities do to help, really, America realize the dream of Martin Luther King, which is to elevate the dignity of each person, the worth of each person, the freedom of each person to realize his or her dreams.

In my judgment, many times the most effective programs to realize that national ambition is through our faith community, because people of faith have heard a universal call. I remember when my friend, Tony Evans, from Dallas, one time talked about broken foundations, cracks on the wall. And the painter kept trying to repaint the wall of the house, and they could never get it right -- until, finally, somebody stepped up to them and said, first you need to fix the foundation. It's that spirit of fixing foundations and helping people realize their true worth, through love and compassion -- and a, the truth of the matter is, reliance on a being far greater than government, the Almighty, that enables you all to do the works of mercy and kindness and neighborhood healing that goes on. The true strength of America truly is found in the hearts and souls of our citizens. And in my judgment, a way to honor the great Martin Luther King is to call upon Americans to unleash that compassion.

And so I want to welcome you here. You're generals in the armies of compassion, who are changing America one heart and one soul and one conscience at a time -- and for that, our nation is grateful. (Applause.)

And I am grateful that Laura said "yes" when I asked her to marry me. (Laughter.) Our First Lady. (Applause.)

MRS. BUSH: Thank you, all. I've been so looking forward to this lunch, to this time of fellowship with each other, because I know that we'll be inspired, and that certainly I'll be inspired -- and I need a little bit of inspiration right now. (Laughter.) So I'm looking forward to sitting down to have this fellowship and I know at that time we can share at all of our tables our favorite stories about the work that you are all doing and the lives that you've helped and the lives that you've changed, and the whole communities that you've changed. So I look forward to that when we sit down.

But I want to thank you very much for being here today at the White House as we celebrate the legacy of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, we honor an American who devoted his whole life to changing our country for the better and to strengthening the content of the American character.

As he worked for universal civil rights, he inspired us to practice the principles that are worthy of a great nation: the principles of tolerance, of forgiveness, of compassion. He taught by example that true change must come with each of us, and begins with each of us and that love -- not violence -- is the most powerful force for social change. Dr. King was surrounded by bigotry and hate, and, yet, he never stopped believing in the enduring power of love.

Since Dr. King's passing, our nation has changed, but the significance of his teachings have not. The answers to our nation's most pressing problems can still be found in our communities, in our churches and in our hearts. And today across the country, Americans are honoring Dr. King by loving their neighbors. Today, Americans are serving the hungry in soup kitchens, they're building the houses for the homeless, they're mentoring young people. And today, each one of you, through your service and the work of your ministries are building a more compassionate America. By putting faith at the forefront of your lives, you're making a remarkable difference in your communities.

President Bush already told us that story that I was going to tell, about the foundation. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Sorry about that. (Laughter.)

MRS BUSH: But through the works of faith, each one of you are fixing the foundation of America. And for that, I thank you very, very much. We thank you for inspiring others to love their neighbors. And today, as we thank God for the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must renew our commitment to uphold the principles for which he lived and died.

Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and every human being deserves to feel the nurturing power of love. So thank you for sharing God's love in your communities and thank you for your continuing the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And now, Serita Jakes will deliver the blessings.

END 12:27 P.M. EST

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