Happy Martin Luther King Day!18 Jan 2010
On August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, and the world has not been the same since. Dr. King’s words have echoed down through American history, and resounded through the struggles of people around the world to throw off racial oppression and the violence, poverty, and injustice that go with it. His words that day became a rallying cry for millions of Americans who wanted their country to live up to the full measure of its promise of liberty and justice for all.
Dr. King famously dreamed of a day when all people would be judged NOT by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Almost half a century later, his words have lost none of their moral urgency. They remain the yardstick for measuring our progress toward full racial equality in this country, and around the world. Although Dr. King’s dream is still a work in progress, we should celebrate the achievements of the intervening years, and redouble our efforts to make his dream – our dream – a reality.
For example, this morning, National Public Radio (NPR) reported one milestone we all should be proud of: the city of Newton, Massachusetts, now has an African-American mayor, Setti Warren, as well as an African-American Governor, DeVal Patrick, and an African-American President, Barack Obama. (See: For Mass. City, Black Leaders Are ‘Business As Usual, by Tovia Smith, National Public Radio, Morning Edition, Jan 18, 2010). In other words, the chief executives at all three levels of government in Newton – city, state, and national – are African-Americans, a striking fact for an affluent white suburb, one that could only be dreamed of back in 1963, when civil rights workers were struggling just to build the foundations of a more just society.
Fast forward to 2010, and perhaps the most remarkable thing is that having three African-American chief executives seems almost, well, … unremarkable. As NPR reported, this history-making event went all but unnoticed until its reporters approached the three political leaders for this story. The article quotes Governor Patrick talking about how deeply moved he was – to the point of tears – to watch Barack Obama receive the Democratic presidential nomination, while his children asked, “What’s the big deal?” The question itself is a marker of progress, showing how far we have come since Dr. King gave his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech; young people live in a world in which race is no longer an insuperable obstacle to reaching the pinnacles of power.
That is not to say that we have reached the promised land of full racial equality; far from it. Anyone who is paying attention can tell you that racial disparities continue to exist, across nearly every domain of human endeavor, whether you look at educational and employment opportunities, health care access, criminal justice statistics, or a variety of other markers. We still have a long way to go, and the road ahead will not be easy; but we should take some comfort in the progress that HAS been made over the years, and draw strength and inspiration from this to continue soldiering on in the footsteps of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.