This is an excerpt from a speech I gave at the annual meeting of the California state bar in 2006. The speech was entitled Diversity and Democracy and it was given at the reception where the state bar presented its diversity awards:
My theme tonight is diversity and democracy and a vision of America in which those concepts are symbiotic. The point I want to make is that your story -- which is my story, too -- is the story of America. American democracy is an idea formed by the words of Declaration of Independence that all people are created equal and that each person possesses the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These words encapsulate the promise of America, a promise made to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. The diverse audience in this room is proof that this is still a promise America can keep. Our diversity, in turn, is evidence that American democracy is still a beacon to the world.
Our story -- the outsider's story -- is not simply a story of personal success, it is a story made possible by the guarantees of equality, freedom and equal access to opportunity that are the natal values of our country. Therefore, creating a society in which people of all ethnicities and races, women as well as men and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people can succeed is not just good politics or good policy, it is the very definition of America.
Diversity is the life-blood of our democracy. America is a dream reborn in the hearts of every generation of outsiders, whether they are immigrants, or members of racial, ethnic or sexual minorities or women. The promises of equality, freedom and opportunity are promises that beat most powerfully in the hearts of those who are in the greatest need of them. The great stories of our history are not the stories of the privileged few who enjoyed the fruits of their position and prestige. The great stories of our history are the stories of people who came from nothing and achieved greatness is some sphere of life. Today, as in every point in our history, the true test of our democratic ideals is how well they operate when they are invoked by the outcast, the marginalized and the discriminated against.