On this day, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his courageous struggle to dismantle racist forces that served no other purpose than to subjugate Black Americans.
On August 28, 1963, The Reverend King delivered the most iconic speech ever delivered by man. The I Have a Dream speech remains unmatched in its ability to conjure emotional responses and provoke insightful and reflective thought, all while unifying disparate factions into a collective fabric.
Five years later, he was assassinated in body, but certainly not in spirit. Dr. King is an indelible force in history, forever lasting as a beacon of civil rights, social justice, and morality.
However, I fear, his work is far from over.
With the election of the first Black president, an alarming amount of Americans believe racism is officially over. Conservative correspondents remark that any national conversation about race equates to race baiting. Young Americans dress in blackface without the slightest regard of minstrel shows. Black Americans are more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts. Racial profiling and crime are alive and well in marginalized Black communities, and gentrification continues to swarm Black neighborhoods at disproportional rates. Racial equity is a myth that has yet to be realized, although tokenism is a safe go-to for the ignorant.
These things considered, it’s not surprising that few Americans believe that adequate progress in racial equity has been made.
I lament to say that Dr. King’s dream has yet to become a reality.
Every day, I position myself as a productive member of society. I pay my taxes and bills, I donate to appropriate causes, and I volunteer my time. I read thought provoking literature, keep up with current events, and extend my friendship to those who are similar in their ambition. I’m crafting myself for success as a civil rights lawyer, and continue to build my candidacy for a law school fitting for my aspirations.
But it’s hard to remain driven. When I see beautiful women referring to themselves as bitches… when I see young gentlemen with their jeans around their ankles and calling each other “nigga” … when I see white Americans clinging to negative stereotypes that my community seems to normalize …when someone refers to my skin color in the negative … when I see my neighborhood crumbling before my eyes, while my elected leaders revel in their egos … when I hear young students proud of their meager academic records … when I see worship of celebrities more prominent than the worship of community activists… when I see the cycle of poverty continue by choice rather than by design… I become disillusioned.
Why should I fight for my fellow Black Americans when we are no longer fighting for ourselves? I often wonder.
And yet, I always recall Dr. King and others like him; the millions of Black Americans through history who must’ve felt the same way I often feel. The frustration and the anger that progress is not happening quickly enough; that people seem unable to grasp the solutions that are seemingly apparent.
The respect I have for members of the historic civil rights struggle is unrivaled. I cannot fathom the violence and danger associated with advancing minority rights. Cross burnings were once a common occurrence, lynchings were once a norm. To be attacked, raped, and degraded were once a ubiquitous hazard. To be called a “nigger” was once a courtesy.
And because of the strength of my ancestors, the above is no longer as prevalent. I can walk around in relative safety, and now there are strong social taboos against discriminatory language and action. Although racial equity is not where I want to be, I must applaud the progress that we’ve made in a few short decades. I must keep this progress in mind, just as much as I must keep the work that still needs to be done in constant thought.
I don’t have all the answers, and my ephemeral disillusionment, I’m sure, is natural at this stage. But I cannot give up. I cannot give up because I have not yet tried. I’m in the very beginning stages of my life and career, and I refuse to bow out so easily.
That would be a huge offense to my spiritual mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King.