Yesterday we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, which was a part of the great March on Washington. There has been much recent discussion of whether or not Dr. King’s ‘Dream’ has become a reality. It seems the same conversation also comes every year in January as we celebrate his birthday. Of course, there is no pat or concise answer to this question. But there are several things to consider when thinking about realizing the Dream.
Firstly, on the positive side, African-Americans are clearly in a better position relative to where we were in Dr. King’s era. Is there still racism? Yes. Maybe we are missing burning crosses, water hoses, and attack dogs, but voting inconsistencies and glass ceilings indicate that there is still discrimination against people of color. However, we are free from legal segregation and many of the atrocities that happened during the Civil Rights Era are now punishable by law. We have more opportunities – greater numbers of African-Americans in higher education, as corporate executives and in political offices. I believe we have made great strides and accomplishments.
However, there is also a dark side that negates many of the positive achievements. There are things going on now that were NOT happening back then and they are hurting our community. The disrespect of women we see now was unheard of in Dr. King’s day. Music and entertainment have glorified calling women ‘female dogs’ and ‘garden tools.’ And there are also women who feel that behaviors that actually degrade them are okay. Young men are glorifying ‘gangsta’ and ‘thug’ mentality, often imitating behaviors found in correctional facilities. We won’t even start in on the sagging pants issue…Using the N-word has become status quo for many, forgetting the hateful origins that brought the word into existence. No, my friends, there are many things going on today that would not have pleased Dr. King and other leaders in the struggle.
So what do we do, 50 years and one day after that great call for action? First of all, we need to continue to celebrate our achievements, but never rest on our laurels. Continue to work hard and make strides. More importantly though – we need to instill in our young people the sense of pride that was instilled in us. They need to know ALL our history – not just about Dr. King and Rosa Parks. They need to understand that even before our ancestors set foot on slave ships, we were corraled into pits and cells and treated inhumanely – in our OWN land of Africa . Teach them how we were separated from our people, our home and our culture. We were brought to this country as animals, and many didn’t survive the Middle Passage, their bodies thrown into the ocean. We would be more respectful of our women, and our young women would be more respectful of themselves if we remembered how Black women suffered in silence as they were raped by slavemasters and overseers, forced to be ‘breeders’ and then nurse their owner’s children. Our young Black men would be more respectful of themselves and each other if we remember how our men were stripped of their place in the family. These men had to watch, defenseless, while their women were raped and their families divided when children and wives were sold to other owners.
How do we teach? We teach respect to our own children, in our own homes. We exhibit respectful behavior. And where the family unit has failed, it is up to the community, our churches, fraternal organizations and community groups to stand in the gap and educate our young people. They can no longer grow up thinking they are less than who God created them to be! They can no longer be claimed by their environment, believing the lie that they cannot rise above their present condition to a brighter future. Yes, we’ve come far, but we have a lot of work left to do. Let us not just remember the speech – let’s live it!
(31WriteNow Challenge Day 29)