This week 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stood before a massive crowd of an estimated 300,000 at our nation's capital and delivered one of the most prolific and significant speeches in recorded history. In this speech, he spoke about his dream. A dream of ideals and principles that were supposedly woven into the very fabric of our constitution by the Founding Fathers, yet at that time seemed like an all but unattainable reality to a certain demographic who proudly identified themselves "American". As Dr King famously puts it, he describes the idea of freedom as a check that is promised to all Americans. However;
"It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."(Source)
These words electrified a nation and will be remembered as a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
Now, 50 years later, I think it is important to reflect on this event with the wisdom of hindsight in order to get a sense of our current development as a nation.
Therefore it is in this spirit that I ask the question;
If Dr King were alive today, would he be satisfied with the progress we have made?
To clarify, I don't just mean Black people when I say "we". I'm referring to all Americans of every race, creed and religion. Has America manged to live up to the high standards that she set for herself back in 1776?
As I sit here and attempt to answer this question, I can't help but feel a little conflicted.
In some ways, my life is an embodiment of Dr. King's dream. I was able to marry the love of my life and create two beautiful, mixed-race children without fear of incarceration or death, which was certainly a harsh reality only a generation or two ago. We were also fortunate because our respective families were 100% supportive throughout our relationship.Unfortunately, I personally know individuals who were happy and had promising futures together, but were ultimately torn apart due to the unrelenting pressure of their families who disapproved of their them dating outside of their race.
This is a nation that has, along with a significant increase in the Black college graduation rate, produced it's first president of minority decent. However, this is still a nation that believes that it is acceptable to stop and frisk minorities on the street and alter voting rights with the indention discourage minorities from the polls. The evidence of long-standing racial tensions recently reared its head during the Trayvon Martin ordeal.
Indeed, the contradictions do not end with African-Americans. For Dr. King's dream called for equality for all individuals.
This is a nation where women have made significant strides in the workplace and in politics, yet they are still making significantly lower wages. Even worse, the almost accepted culture of sexual assault as the norm in the armed forces is deplorable.
This is a nation that boasts of the endowment certain inalienable rights for all citizens, yet same sex couples have been historically deprived of those rights. (However to be fair, the recent repeal of both the "Defense of Marriage Act" and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" have been great victories for the LGBT communities)
This is also a nation whose economy has been supported on the backs of hard-working foreigners (many of which were exploited),and has had the issue of immigration reform buoyed to the forefront of the political landscape only after very people who have been persecuted demanded it.
And the list goes on
If Dr. King were alive, I imagine that he would feel as conflicted as I do. He would be tremendously proud of all the fruits of dedication and sacrifices have accomplished, but at the same time be acutely aware that there is more work to be done .
Had he not been assassinated in 1968, I am certain that he would not be resting on his laurels, but would still be marching somewhere fighting the good fight, only this time he would be walking side by side with not just African Americans and Caucasians, but also with Latinos, women of the military and perhaps even members of the LGBT community.
Wherever he would be, I believe he would still be dreaming of a better tomorrow and inspiring others to do the same. After all, he has been able to accomplish this in a pretty big way 45 years after his death.