MIAMI GARDENS – Recalling personal memories of the civil rights movement, Vice President Joseph Biden on Monday told about 200 people gathered at Florida Memorial University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast that the slain civil rights leader is likely looking down on the country’s first black president with mixed emotions.
“I know he’s looking down now on [President Obama] saying, ‘Good job Barack, but you’ve got a lot more to do,’” said Biden, who was introduced by the university’s interim president, Sandra T. Thompson.
In addition to celebrating what would have been the slain civil rights leader’s 81st birthday, Biden urged continued support for Haiti, acknowledging the 100 Haitian-American students enrolled at South Florida’s only historically black university.
The nation’s 47th vice president was in Miami to meet with members of the Haitian-American community and military personnel regarding relief to Haiti. He encouraged Americans to give whatever they can to help the impoverished nation reeling from a devastating 7.0 level earthquake. A magnitude-5.9 aftershock there on Wednesday knocked down buildings and sent people screaming.
“Many hands make a load lighter,” Biden shared, citing a Haitian proverb.
In an effort to help the audience empathize more deeply with Haiti, Biden urged them to imagine having 100,000 people in Miami-Dade die due to an earthquake. The latest estimates place the death toll in Haiti at about 200,000.
“It’s not merely the news reel, this is real,” he said of the earthquake’s impact on Haitian-Americans. “It’s about their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.”
Recalling his own experience with personal loss (Biden’s first wife and their toddler daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972), the vice president said, “It’s even worse just not knowing.”
Biden intertwined his speech with homage to King and the plight of Haiti, and juxtaposed America’s tremendous progress with its continued quest for racial equality.
“This nation cannot be what it’s capable of until it has reached out to all Americans,” the vice president said as he lamented the enormous amount of talent that goes untapped.
Despite statistics that reveal pervasive inequality for blacks, Biden said the Obama administration is committed to making the kind of change that King visualized.
“We realize what Martin Luther King realized, that opportunity is the only road to equality.”
Of his visit to Miami’s Haitian community, the vice president said his attempt to participate in an “off-the-record” visit to a church so that he could attend a Catholic Mass in Little Haiti resulted in Haitian-Americans demonstrating tremendous generosity, “even in the midst of their grief.”
Biden said he initially wondered why the early-morning mass had not commenced 40 minutes after its scheduled time. But, he said, he soon learned that on five minutes’ notice, the church had brought in four choirs and a musical band, “to show their respect to me.”
Other acts of munificence were observed by Americans across the country in response to the devastation in Haiti. For example, Biden said, even though Louisiana has “lots of unfinished business” four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated that area, members of the New Orleans’ police department were preparing to go to Haiti to provide assistance.
“It is reassuring to be reminded of American generosity,” the former Delaware senator said.
In honoring King, the vice president reminisced about his own involvement in civil rights, when as a young law student he worked in a predominantly black community in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. Leaving a prominent law firm to join the public defender’s office, Biden said, afforded him an up-close view of King’s quest for justice, equality and economic parity.
Speaking directly to the college students in the audience, the vice president told them that they have an obligation, “to reach out as you succeed, graduate from this university, to reach back.”
Miami Dade College student Tamara Futch, 26, said she attended the MLK prayer breakfast with her ten-year-old daughter and nine-year-old niece “to give them an understanding of what this man sacrificed so that we can have freedom.”
Futch’s daughter, Jamara, said the Martin Luther King holiday is about “the special things he did when he was living. It means freedom, black people and white people together.”
Her cousin, Diana, chimed in: “We can go to the same restaurants.”
Photo by Photo by Saalim Black. Vice President Joe Biden