On Monday 16th of January 2017, Chi opened the Parliamentary launch event of Freedom City 2017. You can watch Chi’s speech above and read the full text below.
Freedom City 2017 is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Newcastle University granting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. an honorary degree – the only UK university that did so during his lifetime. You can find out more at freedomcity2017.com.
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. With the kind and gracious permission of the Speaker John Bercow, it is my great pleasure and privilege to welcome you here to the fabulous Speakers State Rooms, for this Westminster celebration of Martin Luther King Day and launch of FreedomCity 2017.
I’d like to thank you for joining us. The Lord Lieutenant, distinguished guests, Minister and Shadow Minister, my fellow MPs, peers. This event is jointly hosted by the University of Newcastle, Northern Roots, NGI, and the Arts Council, who are making Freedom City happen.
And particularly I’d like to thank Ambassador Barzun. This is a sad day in as much as it Matthew’s last official function as Ambassador. To all the other tributes he has earned during his time in the UK let me add that the Ambassador is a true Friend of Newcastle – I know he would agree there are few greater accolades.
You know growing up in Newcastle in the seventies and eights I didn’t even know that Martin Luther King had visited my city.
I knew of him of course – and his dream that his four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
As a child I identified with his children. I wanted that to be true for me too.
I was also aware of our region’s history of fighting for social justice from the trade union movement, to the cooperative movement to the fair trade movement, from religious freedom to the Jarrow March we have a long and active history in the struggle for progress.
But I knew also that poverty, prejudice and war defined the lives of so many – including mine.
It was the Biafran war which tore my family apart. It was poverty that limited the horizons of almost all of us on our council estate. And it was prejudice that I met too often in the playground or on the streets.
Knowing that Martin Luther King had visited our city – well that might have helped me in the playground. Helped all of us working class kids to challenge the stereotypes with which we were surrounded and bounded. To dream big, perhaps even dream of being here.
I want every child to know that Martin Luther King came to Newcastle, but most importantly to know that he came for them, to speak to them. That what he called the three great evils – poverty, racism, war are challenges to be taken up by every child – and every adult.
Martin Luther King came to Newcastle because he saw the struggles around the world as part of the struggle for civil rights in America, so for us there should be no limitations to our horizons.
Freedom City will certainly reflect our pride in Newcastle and Gateshead as we are. But most of all, Freedom City will reflect our pride in the city we will become, as it sets us on the road to building it.
Because we still cannot say that every child in Newcastle will be judged by their character and not by their race, their background or their accent.
Freedom City is the opportunity to embed MLK’s legacy in the next generation as we decide the kind of region, the kind of country and indeed the kind of people we are.