Reverend Samuel Rodriguez (Photo/Edixon Martinez)

First Latino leader to give keynote address at Dr. Martin Luther King’s commemorative service

Not everyone gets invited to participate in a Presidential inauguration, and then turns it down, but Reverend Samuel Rodriguez did.

As the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), America’s largest Christian Hispanic organization — representing more than 16 million Hispanic evangelicals, he had to decline an invitation to participate in President Obama’s inauguration to honor his commitment as the first Latino leader to give a keynote address at Dr. King’s annual commemorative service scheduled for Monday, January, 21.  The event also marks the beginning of a year-long celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of his unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Dr. King to me is an iconic figure,” says Rodriguez. “I know he’s responsible for bringing so much change in America.”

Rev. Rodriguez explains Dr. King is one of his two biggest inspirations — the other one being Reverend Billy Graham.

RELATED: Reverend preaches to Hispanic masses with First Lady Obama

“It’s a privilege to be invited by the King family,” he says about the opportunity to speak at Dr. King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. next week. “To me, it’s one of those issues in life that not only can I not turn it down, it’s an opportunity I must take.”

He says he is concerned more than ever about the division in the U.S. today.

“The last time we were as divided was the time of the Civil War, but today we stand divided on a plethora of issues,” says Rev. Rodriguez. “The country, politically speaking, is committed to the donkey or the elephant — I’m committed to the Lamb — and that’s why I stand committed to reconciling. Dr. King’s dream was a great dream, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

He says although segregation no longer exists, Americans are suffering from poverty, sex trafficking and human slavery are taking place, and 11 million people are living undocumented and in fear — with their families facing the chance of being separated.

“We have devalued life,” says Rev. Rodriguez. “There’s great work to be done. By reconciling Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr.’s message, it can be done.”

He says that to this day, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” is very prophetic for the nation.

“It provided the pathway for the changes we currently see,” says Rev. Rodriguez. “It opened up the way for Barack Obama and for Marco Rubio. It’s a strong prophetic proclamation – a wake up call.”

King Center CEO, Elder Bernice A. King, called Rev. Rodriguez, “an electrifying orator” and “one of the most dynamic and inspiring proponents of the social gospel in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Rev. Rodriguez says he plans on being engaged in the “I Have a Dream” events throughout the year.

“I will speak about implementing the dream,” he says.

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