Senator Reverend Warnock Celebrates the Power of Art as He Receives John Lewis Lifetime Legacy Award for His Continued Efforts to Champion Human Dignity

On Wednesday evening, Senator Reverend Warnock received the John Robert Lewis Lifetime Legacy Award at the March on Washington Film Festival Awards Gala

Since entering the Senate, Senator Reverend Warnock has carried on in his longstanding efforts to empower all communities to be a part of the struggle for protecting human dignity 

Senator Reverend Warnock: “I love art because art transforms. And on this year in which we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip hop, the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, we are encouraged in these dark days to know that the light shines through the darkness and the darkness overcometh it not”

WATCH: Senator Reverend Warnock accepts the John Robert Lewis Lifetime Legacy Award at the March on Washington Film Festival Awards Gala

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday night, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) accepted the John Robert Lewis Lifetime Legacy Award at the March on Washington Film Festival Awards Gala in honor of efforts—both in the Senate, and on and off the pulpit— to push for human dignity, democracy, and civil rights for all people.

“I love art because art transforms,” said Senator Reverend Warnock.“And on this year in which we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip hop, the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, we are encouraged in these dark days to know that the light shines through the darkness and the darkness overcometh it not.”

The March on Washington Film Festival finds, encourages, and brings to life stories of both icons and foot soldiers from the Civil Rights Movement. The John Robert Lewis Lifetime Legacy Award is presented annually to an individual whose life’s work has sought to advance the dignity of all people, no matter their circumstance.

Senator Warnock has been a leading advocate in the Senate for securing our democracy and enacting meaningful federal voting rights legislation, including urging his colleagues to pass federal voting rights protections in his maiden floor speech after being elected; working until the last minute in the 117th Congress to get any meaningful legislation passed; crafting updated federal voting rights legislation to address various voter suppression efforts happening in Georgia and nationwide; and pressing the moral case in the Senate and beyond for why Congress must urgently pass legislation to protect the sacred right to vote. Earlier this year, Public Citizen awarded Senator Warnock with the Golden Boot Award for his advocacy at the federal level to champion federal voting rights legislation and defend our democracy. In July, the Senator joined his colleagues in introducing the Freedom to Vote Act and led the introduction of the Preventing Election Subversion Act

Below are a transcript of his remarks. See here for a video of his remarks: 

Well hello, everybody. I’m a Baptist preacher — talk back to me! Hello, everybody. Thank you so very much. It’s wonderful to be here. And I am deeply, deeply honored by this award. I speak in a lot of places but it’s hard to compete with dessert.

I want to thank my colleague, Congresswoman Ayanna Presley for her kind and magnanimous introduction. I think she was a little bit too generous. The only time I remember receiving a more generous introduction, the person who’s supposed to introduce me didn’t show up. So I had to introduce myself. I’m grateful to her. 

“Grateful to my friend and brother, Jonathan Capehart. Give him a great big round of applause! And for the visionary among us, who got all this started, Robert Raben give Robert Raben a great big round of applause.

“I have a confession to make. I am always nervous when I’m on the same program, with Reverend Al Sharpton. And that’s because when Reverend Al and I are together on the same program, often we’re on our way to jail — in act of civil disobedience, let me be clear, for a righteous cause. I am especially honored to receive this award in memory of my great parishioner. I was his pastor, but he was my mentor. The great John Robert Lewis, come on, let’s hear it. Let’s hear it for John Lewis.

“March on Washington Film Festival, Robert Raben and others: thank you for this honor. And I have to tell you that I especially love this year’s theme “Pulpits, Protests and  Power.” You are walking down my street. I like that. Because the truth is the movement embodied in the March on Washington — the freedom movement emerged from America’s freedom church. Albert J. Raboteau, that great scholar of African American religion, wrote that classic book 1979 Slave Religion, said that the difference between the slave masters religion and the slave religion was wide and deep called by the same name. But he said the difference was wide and deep. Howard Thurman said “by some amazing but vastly creative spirituality the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst.” In other words, they gave us the blues and we made music. They gave us scraps and we made soul food. They gave us the Bible and pointed to Ephesians where it says slaves obey your masters. Our ancestors could barely read and yet they took the Bible and somehow stumbled into Exodus. What God told Moses to Pharaoh: Let My People Go.

“I was shaped by a freedom faith that gave birth to Martin Luther King Jr. and Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis. And so I accept this award in memory of them and all that they represent it and I carry it not as a crown on my head but a crown above my head that I am being challenged to grow tall enough to wear.

“These are tough times. But we all are called to keep the faith and to keep fighting for the highest and the best in the American Dream, to channel our pain into power to believe, to push back against the forces that seek to divide us, to remind us of the covenant we have with one another as an American people “E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many One.” And it has been the vocation of the Black Church. The vocation of the church that has shaped my whole ministry in my whole career to do that work. 

“In the words of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King’s organization to “redeem the soul of America.” And so I’m inspired tonight. I’m not about to give up. I’m not about to give in to the forces of division and demagoguery. Because people who have no vision, traffic in division. We have to keep on doing the work. Thank you March on Washington Film Festival for telling stories, because stories transform us. Stories, storytellers, the griots, the poets,  the prophets, they see things that other people cannot see. And the stories are sometimes about a future that we can’t see. But often they’re about the past and they remind us that the struggle was going on long before we showed up. And that it is our job to keep it going. I love art because art transforms. And on this year in which we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip hop, the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, we are encouraged in these dark days to know that the light shines through the darkness and the darkness overcometh it not. 

“We are encouraged in these difficult days to take the long view. They keep telling the story. Thank God for the hip hop artists, the griots of the modern era. I remember them getting together years ago telling our young people in the midst of this gun violence, “self-destruction you headed for self-destruction.” Y’all remember that? And then came Public Enemy talking about fight the power and even before that, my man Grandmaster Flash telling our stories — “don’t push me because I’m close to the edge. I’m trying not to lose my head. It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how to keep from going under.”

“These stories encourage us to keep fighting, to keep the long view. And so thank you so very much.

“I stand tonight as a United States Senator. I often remind people that I’m not a senator who used to be a pastor. I’m a pastor in the Senate. And so as I close, and nobody believes a pastor when he says ‘as I close.’ I’m reminded that when I was born, a year after Dr. King’s death, Georgia was represented by two effective senators.

“They were good at bringing good things home for Georgia. But they were arch-segregationists. One of them said we love the Negro in his place. And his place is at the back door. Well now I sit in his seat.

“And the other senator was so legendary, that out of only three administrative buildings in the Senate, one of those three is named for that Georgia senator. And after I won my fifth election in three years, they said to me, ‘Senator, you moved up a little bit in seniority, you can get another, office a bigger office. Matter of fact, you can move to one of the other two Senate buildings if you like.’ I said to them, ‘I’ll take a larger office, my staff could use more space. But I’m not going to move to those other two Senate buildings. I want you to leave me right here in this building named for this Georgia Senator’ because I understand prophetic irony. No, leave me in this building named after that Georgia Senator because his statue is in the rotunda of this building right down the hall from my office. And every now and then on my way to my office, I get to look back at that statue. And in the words of one great hip hop artist, I get to say ‘how you like me now?’

“God bless you — keep the faith.”