Saturday, August 28, 2010

What happens to a dream deferred?

47 years ago, the NAACP, the SNCC, the SCLC, CORE, the Urban League, and A Phillip Randolph came together and led the groundbreaking 1963 March on Washington. The organizers and host organizations each spoke eloquently to the needs and concerns of our community, but certainly the day belonged to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On that day he delivered his "I have a dream" speech" which is considered by many to be one of the greatest speeches ever recorded.
"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 the content of their character."
For far too many, the entire speech, the march, and Dr. King's legacy as a whole, is simplified and reduced to that single line. It is a beautiful sentiment to be sure, but when taken as a summation of King's mission and message, the "Dream" itself is diminished. Dr. King said so much more... He spoke not only to his dreams and aspirations for the nation he wished his children to inherit, but he also spoke quite eloquently and often about the obstacles and conditions we would need to overcome to get there.
" hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
Dr. King went on to speak until his death about the need to challenge racism, discrimination, militarism, religious bigotry, and poverty. In fact, on the night before his assassination, Dr. King spoke in Memphis, where he was organizing a campaign on behalf of sanitation workers. In that speech he said to the many Reverends in attendance:
"it's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do."

But what of us now?
On this day of celebration, many will lay claim to the mantle of Dr. King and the movement. Many will pronounce their intent to "restore" it or "reclaim" it or otherwise... But as we sing and celebrate, let us not forget that just last month, shortly after President Obama announced a $1.25 billion settlement for black farmers who were found to have faced overt discrimination by the USDA in the eighties and nineties, Congress refused to authorize the money. The Senate stripped the funding for the Pigford II settlement and several other programs from a bill that appropriated more funds for our war efforts.

Let us not forget that in Gainesville Florida, Muslim religious scriptures are being burned in the name of God. In Cobb County Georgia, Hartford Connecticut, Chicago Illinois, Morton Grove Illinois, and Mayfield Kentucky, permits to build Mosques are being denied or revoked. And in New York City, where even an Islamic community center is seemingly subject to a popular vote, on Tuesday of last week, a 43 year old cab driver from Bangladesh was asked if he was a Muslim. When he stated that he was, the passenger pulled out a knife and cut his throat.

Let us not forget that we are now in the 9th year of our longest war, with no end in sight, EVEN as our schools are laying off teachers, growing class sizes, and consolidating buildings due to the lack of funds.

Let us not forget that the victory in Brown vs the Board of Education which stated that separate was inherently unequal and had no place in public education, is routinely and ubiquitously undermined by those seeking to withdraw children into racially homogeneous enclaves, aided by State and District Courts...

Let us not forget that after the bailouts, and the loans, and the stimulus funds, OUR wealth has been redistributed to the rich, while THEIR pain and loss was redistributed to US.

Let us not forget that 5 years after Katrina, many from the lower 9th STILL are without their homes.

Let us not forget that a study released in March of this year showed that the average median wealth for a single Black Female was only $5.00

Let us not forget that according to a report recently released by the Schott foundation, the National graduation rate for Black males is only 47%, and in some States like New York, it is as low as 25%.

Let us not forget that within many of our inner cities, a culture of resignation and under achievement have taken root; animating our young men with a spirit of hopelessness and discontent which allows them to take and trade young lives with neither forethought or remorse.

Let us not forget that in cases like Ricci vs DeStepano, Gross vs FBL Financial Services, Iqbal vs Ashcroft, Phillips vs Ford Motor Company, and Citizens United vs the FCC, the courts have attacked and deliberately weakened existing Civil Rights law making it increasingly difficult to hold corporations and institutions accountable for violations against common citizens.

Let us not fail to notice that with each passing day our national dialogue becomes increasingly shrill and coarse, and as we retreat to our lesser and more tribal selves, we move further and further away from the 'Dream' we each seek to honor.

Honoring King requires more than our sharing his quotes, reciting his speeches, retracing his steps or displaying his likeness... We honor the messenger by carrying the message, and right now, as badly as ever, our society needs to hear it...

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INTJ - "Mastermind". Introverted intellectual with a preference for finding certainty. A builder of systems and the applier of theoretical models. 2.1% of total population.
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