“We need leaders who have the courage to act at statehouses and Washington, D.C. in the United States Congress,” Harris said, her voice rising above the cheers and applause in Fisk Memorial Chapel. “Have the courage to act, instead of the cowardice to not allow debate and to not allow a discussion on the merits of what is at stake. Courage. You can’t call yourself a leader if you don’t have the courage to know what is right and act on it regardless of the popularity of the moment.”
President Joe Biden spoke to the three lawmakers Friday evening and invited them to the White House, according to officials. And Harris, in her last-minute trip, brought the White House’s push for an assault weapons ban and universal background checks to Nashville.
“Some things are up for partisan debate. Sure, and they will be because that is also a sign of a democracy. But on the issue of smart gun safety laws — background checks — the policy is really pretty straight forward. It’s to say, you might want to know before someone buys a gun whether they have been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know,” Harris said.
During the speech, Harris praised the lawmakers for their bravery and leadership amid the tragedy, drawing a throughline from Johnson, Jones and Pearson to civil rights icons like John Lewis and Diane Nash.
Harris looked out to the crowd of students and said it would be the younger generation to lead on this issue.
“We need you all. And your leadership in this movement is going to impact people that you may never meet. People who may never know your name. But because of your leadership, they will forever be benefited,” she said.
“We will not be defeated. We will not be deterred. We will not throw up our hands when it is time to roll up our sleeves. We will fight. We will lead. We will speak with truth. We will speak about freedom and justice. And we will march on.”