Tulsa Dream Center
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. Thank you, Pastor Johnson, and thank you for your ministry. It is inspiring to be here at the Dream Center. And thank you for your partnership with the Farm to Family Initiative. It is — it has literally distributed tens of millions of meals across the country, but that would not have been possible without the partnership of ministries and community organizations like this one. So I thank you for that.
It is good to be here with you, and thank you for anticipating that — that I’m here to listen. I’ve had the opportunity, since the tragic event that took place in Minneapolis now several weeks ago, to take time to travel to Maryland, to travel to Pittsburgh with Scott Turner, who is a key member of the White House team, to see how we can move our nation forward.
My prayer is really to have ears to hear. And I hope that as you saw the President take executive action this week, sign an executive order to encourage police departments nationwide to embrace higher standards on the use of force, de-escalation, to reaffirm our commitment not just to improve policing and support law enforcement, but also to go beyond that in ways that will continue to advance education and economic opportunities for African American citizens.
From my time leading the White House Coronavirus Task Force, one of the things we realized early on as we saw the fatalities particularly striking the African American community was what it laid bare was some long-term healthcare disparities in our country that have impacted minority communities, especially African Americans.
So the President has really charged us to say, let’s look for ways that we can listen to law enforcement, we can listen to our African American community; that we can — we can provide new resources for training and equipping law enforcement to meet the highest standards that, I think, we all know most of the men and women who put on the uniform of law enforcement every day meet that standard, but how we — how we continue to make progress and move forward.
But in addition to that, how we continue not just — not just to improve public safety, but how we improve the quality of life in our African American communities. And I’m also inspired — I’m inspired, Pastor Johnson, by your comment about your aspiration that Tulsa would play a leading role in this national dialogue.
We all know that we’re approaching the centennial in a year of a dark, dark chapter in American history. It’s remarkable to think of what occurred here in the Tulsa race massacre, the destruction of Black Wall Street in the Greenwood District.
But the way this community has moved forward, and the conversations that I’ve had with the governor on this topic, it may well be, in the next year, that Tulsa — Tulsa can provide a backdrop for how we move our nation forward toward a more perfect union, which is the ongoing aspiration of the American people.
And so I want to thank you for that. I specifically want to — I want to thank Governor Stitt for his leadership. He’s been a tremendous partner with our administration, with the health challenges and the coronavirus. But particularly, it’s clear to me what your heart is on this issue for this community and for moving the state and our nation forward.
And I also want to thank someone who I’ve known for many years — Senator James Lankford — who has emerged as one of the leading voices in the United States Senate. He and I had the privilege of serving together in the United States House of Representatives. I knew then, early on, that he was a man of integrity, of profound faith, with a heart for the people that he served. And, Senator, I want to thank you for your efforts with Senator Tim Scott to lean forward on this issue.
And let me lastly say — and I’ll stop here, and I’m — I’m a notetaker; that’s how I process. So I’m going to be writing down as I listen. But I — what I have heard has really inspired me, is two things:
Number one, I think leaders in the African American community and in law enforcement I met with understand that there’s not a choice here between supporting law enforcement and supporting the African American community. We are going to do both as we move our country forward. We’re going to improve public safety, but we’re also going to — we’re going to work every day to improve the lives of people in the African American community.
But the second thing I’ve observed, and I’ve just had it affirmed again and again, is that I believe the church has today, once again, a vital role to play in moving our nation forward. I had the privilege just to — about 10 years ago, to travel to Montgomery, Alabama, and Selma, Alabama. I was part, Senator Lankford knows, of the annual pilgrimage to mark the anniversary of another dark day in American history, known as Bloody Sunday. I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with my friend Congressman John Lewis.
But it was the night before, when we stood in what was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s old church in Montgomery, just across from the Civil Rights Museum, and there, with my children at my side and my wife, we heard from people who had been there with Dr. King — people who have marched with him; people who had been with John Lewis on that dark day. And they spoke to me about the role of their faith.
And my understanding of American history is that we would never have arrived at emancipation but for the moral voice of the church in this nation that drove an end to slavery in that great conflagration of the Civil War. The progress that we’ve made on civil rights, I think, history records. But I saw it firsthand from these wonderful, now a little older, ladies. But they told me: Before they would march, they had church, and they would pray and they would sing, and they would march.
And I can’t help but feel, as we look at the tragic death of George Floyd, we look at the national response in the streets of the country — I mean, there’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd, and there’s no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that ensued. But as we think about how we heal our land, I just want to say to all the great faith leaders around this roundtable that we understand you have a leading role to play.
The President said earlier this week: We — as Americans, we grieve together and we heal together. And my hope and my prayers as we continue these conversations in the days ahead: We’ll carry back practical recommendations, and I promise you that we’ll work to put them into practice.
But I also want to encourage each and every one of you to understand that we think that the role that you and your ministries can play, and not just in Tulsa and Oklahoma but in the nation as a whole, is absolutely essential — past, present, and future — for moving us toward a more perfect union.
So with that, I’ll turn it back over to you, AJ. And I thank you all. Thank you all again, and I want to thank everyone who took time to be here today.
(The roundtable discussion commences.)
(The roundtable discussion concludes.)
Thank you, Pastor. Well, if I may, Pastor AJ, thank you. And thank you all for those very moving insights. We will carry them back. And I’m struck by what so many of you said: Pastor Battle, who spoke about atmosphere in the time of challenge. And Dr. Paula Price, who talked about getting to the sole issue. This really is — this is one American at a time, as Senator Lankford said.
I’m grateful, Pastor Abode, for your ministry and your example. And we also appreciate the specific recommendations. And thank you for — I want to thank you and I want to thank Dr. Hatcher for acknowledging the things that President Trump and our administration have been able to do with strong support from Senator Lankford, United States Senate — not just Opportunity Zones that Scott Turner quarterbacks for us all over the country with great energy. And you can give him a round of applause. I don’t think he got one. (Applause.) Such a great man.
But criminal justice reform, I will tell you — the Senator remembers — that was — that was a challenge, and I want you to know the President leaned all the way into it, didn’t he, Senator? And we are actively considering what the next step and first step is. And we’ll carry back your counsel.
Governor, I appreciate your dedication to second chances. And, you know, I’ve — we’re going to go back and look at — look at the recommendations of what you’re suggesting here.
But I think what you said, Pastor AJ, and what others said I’ll leave here and ponder very deeply, and this is the role that Tulsa can play in this national dialogue over the next year. And as the Senator said, May 31, 2021, the country will uniquely focus here and ask that question: What has changed in America in 100 years?
And I just want to tell you that, seizing this moment, the steps the President announced this week; the efforts of our administration before to expand education opportunities, school choice, to expand economic opportunities through Opportunity Zones, we’re going to look at Tulsa, we’re going to look at this place and this moment, and see if we can answer that — answer that question in a way that will inspire generations of Americans.
So thank you for these good words. Join me in thanking Pastor AJ and the whole Dream Center team for your ministry and hospitality today. (Applause.)