Monday, January 19, 2009

All Hail


I wish I could say that today marks Dr. King's dream realized. I keep hearing that said, but it's hardly the case. I sure don't want to minimize Obama's election, but the fact is that, as a nation, we have so much more to do. Like many, I wasn't quite sure I would see a black president in my lifetime. When Barack gave his Demo keynote address it was clear that he could go all the way. Of course, it did help that the country has endured what surely must be one of the worst administrations ever. I can't speak about Harding, Grant, Coolidge, or even Milliard Fillmore, but my sense of history tells me W wins the prize.
I love that people are energized, that many now get that community service is about much more than volunteering time, and that a sense of hope is beginning to replace the cynicism and despair we've endured for the last eight years.
When we stop congratulating ourselves, and realize that MLK's dream is about much more than a black president, we'll see how far up the earning curve we can go.
When Martin Luther King Jr. said he had a dream, he found those words off the cuff. They were never written until after the speech. Yet, that's what people remember. Some of the underpinnings for those sentiments are in his "letter from the Birmingham Jail." Dr.King wanted the best for his children and certainly would have loved t see this country today where his son and daughter can enter public facilities and can partake in this democracy in many more ways than he could. But before those comments he expressed stronger feelings.
"America has handed the Negro people a check and it has come back stamped insufficient funds."
There is a little more money in the bank today, but not nearly enough. Checks come back every day. Checks for understanding what race is and isn't. Checks for equity in education. Checks for decent wages, family support, and healthcare.
I'm elated. I know that this inauguration will be a pivotal event in many young people's lives. It is a very big deal. The events we see and experience at crucial times in our lives play a huge role in our developing values. And values are changing. I hear the gears of value shift grinding every day. Because of this, the work that comes now will be complicated.
Today I am proud of my country, whatever that means. Today I feel relief that decent people are in the halls of power. Today I think about yesterday. I see the nine year old with the Willie Mays glove, colorblind, but living in the segregated southwest. I see the 15 year-old crying at news footage of three civil rights workers funerals. I see the 16 year old researching his U S History term paper on voting rights and learning that black citizens that very day are still taking literacy tests with questions like "How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?" I see the 21 year-old listening to Dr. King link the Vietnam War to social justice. I see the 22 year-old VISTA Volunteer riding a bus in Houston, Texas and being the only one to go to the aid of an elderly black woman who fell on the steps of the bus. I see the KKK poster I took off a telephone pole in my community later that year. I see the young teacher teaching white kids "Rock and Blues Analysis" and black kids something the school board liked to call "Minority History."
Please meet people like Olaudah Equiano, James Forten, Phyllis Wheatly and Denmark Vesey. Say something to Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown. Check out Robert Johnson, Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Listen to Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and Duke Ellington. Better not miss Coltrane, Miles, The Count and Sarah V. Think about Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Dr. King.
Vote, always vote. This time vote for Barack Obama.

It's been a long time comin'
But I know a change gon' come.

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