Senator Elizabeth Warren praised the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during an annual convocation service Sunday for the civil rights leader at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury.
Warren, a Democrat, was the keynote speaker at the church, where King regularly preached while he was a doctoral student at Boston University.
The senator urged about 200 worshipers to continue King’s fight for racial justice and for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised.
“We can choose to be a country that lives up to Dr. King’s dreams,” Warren said. “And we can fight to make those dreams a reality.”
The fight remains urgent, Warren added, amid efforts to roll back civil rights advances that King fought for, and as the “grinding heel of poverty” continues to afflict the marginalized.
“We must fight back,” Warren said, summoning the populist rhetoric that has made her a national hero to the political left and a bane to many conservatives. “It is up to us to put an end to poverty and oppression” and to ensure that every child “can walk down the street, free from fear or distrust.”
Warren has frequently been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016, despite her repeated statements that she is not running.
The Rev. Arthur T. Gerald Jr., senior pastor of Twelfth Baptist, drew chuckles as he introduced Warren and said that when she returns to the church, “she might be coming back as the candidate for,” and let his voice trail off.
Warren did not address the 2016 speculation in her remarks and left the church without speaking to reporters.
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, the church’s associate pastor, said during the service that King “preached here, taught here, grew here, and learned here” while he studied at BU, and even met his wife at Twelfth Baptist.
Brown also said the church “has been a civil rights church practically from its inception,” with an emphasis on embracing all peoples.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh underscored that point by noting that the church recently hosted a prayer service for healing in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner protests, as well as the shooting deaths of two New York police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
That prayer service had included youth activists who helped organize street protests in Boston against police violence, as well as several members of the Boston police command staff.
“Boston, like other cities, still has a lot to do in terms of class, and in terms of race,” Walsh said Sunday. He cited a line from one of King’s last sermons: “Ultimately, a great nation is a compassionate nation.” Boston, Walsh said, must also show compassion for all of its residents.
“If we can do that, then together we will become a great city,” he said.