Lisa Blunt Rochester is first African American and first woman elected to represent Delaware in Congress.
Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for a dream of equal rights.
On Monday, while tributes will celebrate him, his dream, and the sacrifice he made, among those who will be reflecting on King’s impact is Delaware’s Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.
Blunt Rochester made history when she won the 2016 Congressional race against Republican Hans Reigle and became not only the first woman to be elected to represent Delaware in Congress, but also the first African American.
She was sworn in Jan. 3, barely two weeks before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
“For me to be in this position, I always say that it is humbling,” Blunt Rochester said. “During the swearing in ceremony, that is when it really hit me. As I was standing there taking the oath, I had my hand up, and I just thought about the folks that have come before me and made it possible for me to even run, and even win this election.
“Having this as an accomplishment for me, and our state, it just goes back to perseverance. The decision to serve, and to put yourself out there is important, but it also comes with a lot of ups and downs,” Blunt Rochester said.
“I remember, last year at this time, I took a trip with my two sisters to visit Martin Luther King Center down in Atlanta for the holiday. It reminded me that this is all about not giving up and persevering. So, when I raised my hand to give that oath, it was important for me to be very present and in that moment, and to appreciate the work of so many people to get us across that finish line.”
In talking about perseverance, she wondered what it had to be like for King as he gave up so much of himself to make his dream of equal rights a reality for everyone.
“If I could talk to him, I first have to thank him for all that he gave, but I would also have to ask him what sustained him,” Blunt Rochester said. “I mean he was so young when he did this. He had to give up a lot of his family, the amount of death threats, and at one point everywhere he went, people knew who he was. He had to give up so much of his personal life.
“I would love to ask him what was he thinking of, during those times of fear, and I just wonder, how did he overcome it?”
She also expressed a desire to ask him how he would go about healing our country today.
“We just came through an election, where even in the month and years leading up to the election where a lot of people were feeling all kinds of things,” she said. “What I love about Dr. King, and why I think this holiday is as significant as it is, is because it is about, both action and reflection.
“It isn’t just about remembering. We are talking about where we go from here, and people thinking about the commitment people think they can make to peace, and to justice, and to love, and to healing our country and our land.”
On that topic, Blunt-Rochester said while there are areas we can still improve upon, she believed that King would be proud of the improvements in civil rights.
“I think he would see some of the great gains we have made, but he would recognize that we still have work to do,” she said. I think he would want to use the access that we now have to social media to not just bridge the gap between races, but millennials and more mature generations, between religions, and social economic statuses.
“I do think, though, he’d be proud of how far we’ve come in terms of equal rights and marriage equality,” she said. “There are so many things, that I don’t even know that I expected to see today, right now, that he would say that we’ve made some advances and strides.”
Above everything, Blunt Rochester hopes that future generations can use King as a role model, citing his compassion, value in education, family, and service, as traits to look up to.
“I think he was a very compassionate person. I also think he valued education and the opportunity it gives,” Blunt-Rochester said. “I also think family was very important to him, and that may not just include your biological family, but also those who rally around you to support you. There are so many other traits, but I think above all else is the service he gave.
“I’m very proud that my children have followed that tradition, even when they were kids, before this was even a holiday. We would end up doing things this day, like Meals on Wheels. Now they are 28 and 30, and soon they’ll be having kids,” she said.
“I come from a tradition of service, and I’m glad to see my children are following in those footsteps. I hope to encourage all the children of Delaware to do the same.”