Each year we pause to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nationally and internationally, people hear again his "I Have A Dream" speech, or read his “Letter from The Birmingham Jail,” or his acceptance speech after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. But do we really stop to hear the words, learn the circumstances that motivated such elegance in philosophy, literary resonance and civil liberties import? Dr. King's non-violence philosophy touched the hearts and strategies of many people throughout the world. Extracted from his studies of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian spiritual giant who believed in justice for all regardless of their station in life.
Dr. King preached that change requires pressure, diligence and resistance and the best way to initiate and ensure permanent change was through getting the attention of the oppressor and bringing pressure to bear where it would be felt most and acted upon most swiftly. Dr. King understood that economic, educational and racial equality was needed in the US. He knew these changes would not be won with guns, or wars, or subjugation of one people for the benefit of another. Rather, our country could only continue to grow and succeed when everyone was given the same rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, respected as inalienable rights and exercised so that every human being, regardless of color, creed, or national origin has equal access, equal opportunity and equal justice.
His "dream" was attacked in his lifetime and it continues to be attacked today. While many laws have been enacted to support these constitutional rights, too many of the undergirdings that make "The Dream" a realistic goal have been deferred...through laws and injustices that create and support vast disparities. Regrettably, our own refusal to take full advantage of everything that is available to us--by law, by birth and by expectation--have contributed to reversals in the gains we’ve made in the last 50 years.
An old saying goes " you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” This can never be something that categorizes our right to vote, our quest for good education, our love and respect for family and life, as well as the desire for upward mobility. These are rights duly earned and therefore worth marching for, even worth dying for. But black-on-black crime and violence, and a total disregard for life are not what Dr. King was dreaming of. Each generation has to build upon the achievements of the last. Each must pass the batons forward and ensure each runner in the race pass-on, so-to-speak, opportunities for a better life, a fuller opportunity and a legacy that exemplifies the life of Dr. King and all that he stood for and gave his life for.
Current generations should re-read and re-commit to “The Dream” for his/her life, the life of his family and the life of his community and nation. For while things are not perfect and many injustices remain, we cannot afford to rest on the laurels of what should have been but what is; and what we still must do to promote, live and foster “The Dream” for generations to come.
Many have captured his dream, and now live his dream. It was not thrust into their arms simply as a law but worked for, earned and secured by living and working the laws that protect the dream. On this week of Dr. King’s birthday, let us not only see the images and read the speeches, and also put his dream into the context of when the speeches were written and how they should be interpreted and acted upon today.
We must applaud his life, for it changed many laws and the perception of many people of color. But his dream can only live when we live a moral life. We have to stop the violence in our communities, we must decry the “violences” permitted through “stop and frisk” laws or “stand your ground” laws. We must elect talented, honest, justice-seeking officials. To do that, we have to vote.
We must avail ourselves of good educations. It’s education that must remain the uppermost vehicle used for upward mobility and to our destination, the Black middle Class.
Without education and the perpetuation of the attitude education is (mistakenly) not the vehicle for personal movement and growth, we will continue to doom future generations to institutionalized poverty. We must transfer our dreams to our children and continue to show them examples of those who have overcome....not because of the color of their skin, but inspite of their skin color. We must remind them that a dream is only possible when it becomes a reality....otherwise it remains a dream and that is not what Dr. King died for.
Capture your dream and thank Dr. King for his work and sacrifice, for leaving us a legacy that is revered throughout the world. We must be the torchbearers who attest that his living was not in vain. Happy Birthday Dr. King!