Hundreds gathered Wednesday in Kennedy King Park for the 50th commemoration of the assassination of the great Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, and a subsequent speech in Indianapolis by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy that had a peaceful, moving effect on the stunned audience.
Guests of honor at the park included Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia.
Kerry Kennedy is president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and is a staunch advocate for children, impoverished families and those without a voice in politics.
Lewis is credited with following directly in the footsteps of the King, facing upward of 45 arrests for his nonviolent protests against the loss of human rights.
The U.S. representative spoke to the crowd Wednesday morning and said King and Kennedy’s message is still relevant.
“It doesn’t matter if we are black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American. It doesn’t matter whether we are straight or gay,” he said. “We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young presented Lewis with the Trailblazer Award.
“For almost six decades Congressman Lewis have been leading the way as a champion of peace and justice and equity,” said Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana. “The very messages of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that Robert Kennedy espoused in its speech here on this sacred ground 50 years ago.”
While receiving such an honor, Lewis sought to honor Robert Kennedy, who would have been elected president had he lived, Lewis said, and King, his friend and leader.
“If it hadn’t been for Martin Luther King Jr., I don’t know what would have happened to our nation. I don’t know what would have happened to many of us that had been left out and left behind,” Lewis said. “I thank God that he lived.”
Other elected officials in attendance echoed his remarks.
“We all still have work to do,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, said. “To live up to Dr. King’s dream of equality and Robert Kennedy’s hope for unity in that higher purpose.”
“On that night his voice would not be silenced. That message, the message of Dr. King and of Sen. Kennedy, has endured time unlike any life could,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat.
The story of Robert Kennedy announcing to the crowd the assassination of King, then relating powerfully to their grief by sharing his own feelings at the unjust death of his brother at the hands of a white man, and calming the crowd, was repeated throughout the commemoration.
“I want to thank you, Indianapolis, for showing our country what we can do if we work together,” said Kerry Kennedy. “As an adult I recognize the lessons father taught us as children mirrored the very beliefs he wanted the entire nation to embrace. … That peace is not something to pray for, but each of us has the responsibilty to create daily.”
Kerry Kennedy and several elected officials, including Lewis, spoke to schoolchildren inside the Center for Inquiry School 27 on the west side of Kennedy King Park. The U.S. representative told stories of fighting alongside King and the pain of losing both King and Robert Kennedy to assassins within months of each other. Robert Kennedy was assassinated June 5, 1968.
Lewis also answered questions about causes youth are championing — including violence in schools and rights for students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He championed rights for those taken into the country illegally as children.
The officials’ messages had a significant impact on students including seventh-grader Zion Byers from Fall Creek Junior High in Fishers.
“I just thought it was amazing how they were able to work together,” he said of Kennedy and King.
In the address outside at Kennedy King Park, Lewis also admonished the crowd to continue the dream and act on injustice through peaceful, powerful means.
“When you see something that is not right, something that is not fair, something that is not just, you have a moral obligation to say something and do something,” he said to the cheering crowd. “You cannot be quiet.”