It is important for all of us to take a moment and remember and recognize the march on Washington for jobs and freedom that occurred fifty years ago today. I have often watched the “I have a dream speech” like many others all over the world, feeling inspired and challenged by Dr. King’s exhilarating words and delivery. As I reflect on this anniversary, there are a number of themes that I want to share.
The progress we have made: As a proud citizen of the city of Atlanta, I am proud that Dr. King called our city home and that Ebenezer Baptist Church is just a few miles from our neighborhood. Last weekend I had a chance to get on my bike, connect via the new beltline bike path, and work my way up to Piedmont Park in the center of the city. The weather was wonderful and the park was hopping and I was struck by the groups of kids all over the park; on the volleyball courts, on a soccer field, in the big swimming pool, and on the children’s playground all playing together clearly regardless of race. Here I was in a prominent southern city, within eyesight of Stone Mountain, and Dr. King’s speech came clearly to mind,
"I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. "
"I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."
Here I was in the deep-south, with blacks and whites, south Asians and Koreans, Mexicans and central and South Americans and folks from literally all over the world enjoying a beautiful afternoon together, not even realizing they were all part of fulfilling Dr. King’s dream.
The progress not made: It is crucial to remember that the march fifty years ago was a march for “jobs and freedom.” As we sit here today, in late august of 2013, we have a lot of work to do on both of those fronts. Unemployment is still broadly at high levels all across the country, but if you look at the jobless percentages of those under 30, and especially for those young men and women of color, the statistics are frightful. In a landscape rife with national, state and local budget deficits, our ability as a country to invest in our children’s education, and candidly their future is under serious threat. Additionally in considering that the march was on the eve of the voting rights act fifty years ago, it’s impossible to mark this anniversary and not think about the challenges and limitations to the fundamental right to vote that are rampant all across our country. Again Dr. King’s words ring true,
"We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote."We cannot be satisfied by the current tepid economic recovery and think that our economic woes are fixed. We can’t be lulled into thinking that just because our elected officials are more racially, ethnically, and gender diverse, that somehow it makes our democracy more open, more active and more vibrant. Clearly we have work to do.
The road ahead: Inspired as I truly am by Dr. King’s speech, I feel that we all need to be motivated and energized as we look at the fifty years ahead. Will we make progress on Dr. King’s legacy and be able to fulfill some of Dr. King’s unfulfilled “dreams?” Will our children look back on this day on the 100th anniversary (August 28, 2063) and marvel at the progress made, or be humbled by the yet unfulfilled potential? Since I am about to turn 52, I truly doubt that I will mark that anniversary, but I am more than hopeful that my children Bryson and Marie will celebrate that day. We should be clear that we all need to take actions now that will keep the march of progress moving forward, so someday our children’s grandchildren can all fulfill Dr. King’s dream,
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.
I have a dream today."