RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Better days for North Carolina are ahead if citizens take calculated risks and stand up to fight bigotry, poverty and racial injustice, a state Cabinet member said at Friday's annual's Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance by state employees.

Department of Administration Secretary Machelle Sanders cited words of the slain civil rights leader — born 92 years ago on Friday — in calling on fellow state workers to be “drum majors” for equality, justice and peace. She said the COVID-19 pandemic, police shootings and political divisiveness of the past year have shined the light on institutional racism nationally and in the state.

“North Carolina needs you at this time," Sanders told workers. “Our jobs are a higher calling that takes a very special and unique talent to ... bring about goodwill for all our communities across this state."

The program is usually held in person at a downtown Raleigh church, but it was recorded for an online audience this year due to pandemic safety concerns.

Other participants included recently reelected Gov. Roy Cooper and Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, who is President-elect Joe Biden's choice to become U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator.