The words floated down the hall from a classroom full of beautiful little people. I paused my work as their intonations rose and fell like the gentle but ever-moving waves on a lake. Something inside me tilted a bit when I heard this, and hope weighed a little more.
“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.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963
The “Dream” speech is more than 56 years old. His children have long grown up and I wonder if they have noticed enough lasting change to feel that the sacrifices their father made have been worth it. It’s easy for us as white people to think that we have come so far and that the burden of the social justice struggle has been borne and the hard part is over. Yet, that is not our decision. In fact, if we feel we have arrived, it is because our privilege has made us comfortable. Let’s take a look at how races are treated within communities. White people are four times as likely to say that we are all treated the same while only 18% of blacks would agree with us. Another study shows that 75% of black people feel there has been little to no civil rights progress in the last 50 years. Police brutality, school segregation, unequal pay and so much more continues to haunt the fabric of our society. Black kids today are even more likely to grow up in a poor neighborhood than at the time of the Dream Speech, while white family wealth is nearly 7 times higher than black family wealth. Inequality is everywhere.
This is not to say that we should not celebrate the civil rights victories from the past 5 decades. Rather, it is a reminder that we are nowhere near the finish line. Celebrating the life and memory of this great Civil Rights Leader is not a time to pat ourselves on the back and sit down. It is a time for us to make sure we are still on our feet, ready to be the change our country needs.
“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?” ~ MLK, Letter from Birmingham jail
Today is about a birthday, not a retirement party. So get your walking shoes on and lets go!