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On April 5, The Opportunity Agenda had the privilege of presenting the 2013 Creative Change Award to scholar, activist, and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry. Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, presented the award, and the night included master of ceremonies (and master comedienne) Negin Farsad and a brilliant performance by hip hop theater innovator Bryonn Bain. We also showed a short and exciting video about our Communications Institute for social justice leaders. It was one of the most inspiring, energizing, and soulful evenings in our organization’s history. I’m sharing here excerpts of my remarks from the event, which only begin to capture the energy of the event and the promise of this moment in America’s history.

This has been an amazing year for The Opportunity Agenda and, more importantly, for Opportunity in America. And the coming year promises to be our best one yet. The theme of tonight’s event is to Outgrow the Status Quo—to move beyond our current reality to a new vision for America. I believe, this year, that that vision is within our grasp.

Those of you who know us know that our mission is building the national will to expand opportunity in America. To infuse our society with the values of equal treatment, economic security and mobility, a voice in decisions that affect us, a chance to start over after missteps or misfortune—what many Americans call redemption—and Community; the idea that we’re all in it together; that we share responsibility for each other and for the common good. Ours is an intentionally ambitious mission that requires moving hearts and minds, and policy over time. But in the past year, our ambitious work has begun to pay off in dramatic ways that we believe will produce transformative change this year and in the years to come:

We spread a compelling narrative on welcoming America’s immigrants and upholding human rights, and we trained over 450 leaders around the country on using that narrative in a tumultuous media environment. Together, we literally reframed the debate on immigrants, immigration, and opportunity. This year, I believe we’ll see commonsense reform of our immigration laws that upholds our nation’s values and moves us forward together. We are working now to ensure that basic human rights and due process are a part of that reform.

In our work to expand Home Opportunity, we elevated the real causes of the foreclosure and financial crisis, lifted up practical solutions, and placed hundreds of news stories reaching and persuading tens of millions of Americans. As a result, we saw policy changes that have enabled hundreds of thousands of Americans to keep their homes, that have increased fair housing and fair lending protections, and that are helping to rebuild our economy. In fact, just yesterday, the Obama Administration adopted one of our central recommendations—to expand housing counseling that empowers homeowners to get a fair deal and invest in their families’ future.

Our report on Media Depictions of African-American men and boys caught fire after the terrible killing of Trayvon Martin. We presented our findings to media decisionmakers and demanded change. And we advised campaigns like the one to end discriminatory stop-and-frisks here in New York City that has already produced important police reforms. This year, building on that work, we hope to develop a major initiative towards a Criminal Justice System that lives up to our nation’s highest values—and we’ll be asking for your help to make that happen.
More broadly, we saw the values and narrative of Opportunity, Community, and Basic Equality dominate our electoral politics this past election year. The winning party’s convention was an Opportunity Values convention, and their message was an Opportunity message, in speeches by the likes of Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, Lily Ledbetter, and the President and First Lady of the United States.

And the party that lost the White House is now engaged in very public soul searching over its commitment to basic equality, inclusion, and true Opportunity. Our goal, of course, is for every political party, every elected leader, every institution and participant in our society to be committed to greater and more equal opportunity for all. The past year’s political debate was a major step forward that it’s our job to continue and enlarge. Finally, our fourth year of work with Artists, Entertainers, and Cultural Leaders committed to Social Justice is also yielding amazing results: Our Creative Change network has amplified cultural works on migration and human rights—led by our dynamic Steering Committee member, Favianna Rodriguez—as well as on the importance of home opportunity and the scourge of unjust foreclosures, and on many other issues of our day.

One way that we’ll be bringing that all together in the coming year is through the roll-out of our new and improved Communications Toolkit—an update of the most popular publication we’ve ever produced. Most of you will remember that, at last year’s awards event, our theme was superheroes. Since that time, and through the creative genius of graphic artist Gan Golan, we have created our own superhero to advance our communications work: Helvetika Bold, a hero who’s Word is Mightier than Her Sword. Helvetika represents not just our work, but also the thousands of everyday heroes with whom we work across the country. You’ll be seeing a lot more of Helvetika in the coming year.

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I don’t get to introduce our honoree, Melissa Harris-Perry, but I do want to thank her. Melissa was a supporter of The Opportunity Agenda before there was an Opportunity Agenda, and she has been a supporter, mentor, and advisor to me, and to our organization, throughout our history.

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Finally, thanks to all of you for joining us on this amazing adventure. The year 2013 promises to be our most important and impactful one yet, and that is because of you. Thanks, and have a great night!

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