The Dream

To enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the “Civil Rights Act of 1964”.

I sometimes wonder if the parents of great people can predict this greatness at birth.  It’s strange, I know, but I still wonder sometimes.  I know parents do this all the time, they look down at the faces of their children and they see a future president, or a world leader, a great humanitarian, or a history changing scientist.  I know this because I felt it when I looked at my own daughters for the first time, and still do.  I look into their big brown eyes and soft faces and think to myself, ‘someday, you’re going to change the world’.

But is there something different that the parents of the truly great ones feel?  Maybe a spark or a tingle?  Or maybe something more specific?

For instance, I wonder if when Reverend Martin Luther King, and his wife, Alberta Williams King looked down on the face of their son for the first time, did they recognize the face that would become the face of the Civil Rights movement?  When they heard him cry, did they hear the voice that would ring out across a nation, and when he spoke his first words, did they hear also the words that would change the course of a country?

Did Alberta know she had given birth to a boy whom the world would owe a debt that could never be repayed?

I wonder these things sometimes.

Dr. King would not spend a full forty years on this planet, his life ripped away from him at 6:01 pm on April 4th in 1968 whilst standing on the second story balcony outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee by an assassin’s bullet.  The room where he stayed at is now called the King-Abernathy suite.  And yet, despite such a short life, Dr. King would accomplish so much, and still leave us with an ongoing challenge, a challenge we will pass on to our children and they to theirs.  It is perhaps the greatest challenge bestowed upon a species that has displayed such a capacity for hate and aggression, a challenge that seems impossible for even the most stalwart of its standard-bearers.  His gift to us would not be complete upon his death, nor would it be completed in the years that followed.

As strange as it may seem, it is part of the beauty of his gift that it may never be completed, that it will require the continuous work of generations, weaving together a patchwork quilt of tolerance and compassion and kindness, leading us forever to a better place, to a brighter place.  It is a gift for which we should be eternally grateful, and should never fail to pass on to those who come after us.

**

Man how I wish I could have been there.  Amid all that energy, all those people who had come together for one purpose, standing under the stony gaze of the Lincoln Memorial, singing, “We Shall Overcome”.  I can imagine the charge in the air I would feel as I stood in the cradle of our democracy staring over a vast precipice in our country’s history, like standing at the edge of a cliff and seeing the treacherous rocky ground below, but just this once, if I closed my eyes, held faith, and spread my arms out, to leap would not mean to fall to my death but to borne upon the mighty winds and sent higher than any person before me.

I would be there with my family, holding hands with my wife and my eldest daughter, my youngest perched precariously on my shoulders, clutching onto my beard and shifting left and right with the sound of thousands of voices.  My dad and stepmom would be there too, along with my mom and stepdad, and all eleven of my brothers and sisters; white, black, and mixed.  My cousins would be there; Chris and Jose, as well as my aunties and uncles from Hawaii and maybe Japan.  One huge family like a map of the world etched out on faces young and old alike, and all singing that song, “We Shall Overcome”.


I can feel the energy filling the crowd as the man from Atlanta, only a few years older than me, took the podium to deliver a speech that would echo throughout time.


I can imagine us all coming together, my family and strangers, cheering, hugging, letting the moment pass through us, letting us be a part of that moment as with a power and passion seemingly bestowed upon him from up high Dr. King belted out those last few words, “FREE AT LAST! FREE AT LAST! GOD ALMIGHTY FREE AT LAST!”

And then it all fades away. The dream, the image of me standing there with my family for, without Dr. King, I don’t think my family as it is today would be the same.

**

I also sometimes wonder how Dr. King would see things today. Would he be satisfied? Would he be content? Would he look upon us as a society and think we have come farther than he ever expected, or would he feel only frustration and dissappointment?

The fact of the matter is, we have come a long way. As never before can men and women of all shades, of all cultures sit down at the same big table and discuss ideas without having those ideas tainted by the shades of our biology. As never before do we find the posterity of slaves seen as equals or even superiors to the posterity of slave owners. Today we live in America where little black boys and little black girls join hands with little white boys and little white girls in love and friendship, in passion and enterprise. Today we live in an America where some white guy from California can look back upon his life and see how enriched itw as by his black brothers and sisters, and he can stare into the eyes of his Chinese daughters and see a world that would accept them for their ideas and their person, and not exempt them for their racial heritage.

And for all of this, I believe Dr. King would be proud. For this I think he would be content, but I doubt he would be satisfied. I doubt he would be satisfied with the rampant racism that still persists in our society, no longer politically correct and thus stuffed down beneath the surface, but still there all the same. I think he would look at our America today and say that there is still work to be done.

For, as I mentioned above, Dr. King’s work remains incomplete. But I do not think this would be a revelation of sorrow for him, nor is it for me, and if you have a one dollar bill, I’d like you to take it out and look at it. Look at the back at the circle one the left hand side.

There you will find a pyramid, which was intended to represent strength and duration like the great pyramids of Egypt. But unlike those great monuments to the dead, the pyramid on your dollar bill is unfinished, the top has been left off, replaced instead with the Eye of Ra, the ancient God of the Sun, and the most powerful among the ancient Egyptian’s gods.

It is a symbol of how this nation will remain incomplete, but with the work of each other and whatever higher being out there exists, we will work continuously to complete it. It is this ideal, that as humans we are forever condemned to be imperfect, but as a nation we can strive to rectify those imperfections that drives this country, and Dr. King, not merely a great theologan, but a man who understood well the history of this country, knew this.

The battle against bigotry in this country will never be won outright. There will always be those who, in their ignorance, in their hate, in their own insecurities, will seek to focus their hate upon those who are biologically unlike them, but we as a people can still overcome them. We will never destroy completely those who subscribe to the “14 words” (“we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”), however we can fight constantly for the day when no black person, no Latino person, no Asian or Arabic or Jewish person is prevented from that totally American pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness because of them.

And as we grow older as a country, the battles seem to multiply. For a country founded partly on religious freedom, it seems that more than ever we must hold strong against those who would have this country turned into its own theocracy, but it is necessary that we keep this country free for those of all religions, and those of no religion at all. For a country that promises the pursuit of happiness, it seems that more than ever we must hold strong against those who would deny the tender benefits of true love, but it is necessary that we guarantee the full rights of American citizens regardless of if they find that true love in the opposite gender, or their own. For a country that prides itself on its strength and fearless resolve to do what is right, we find that fear has led us down a path of ugly bigotry against those of the Islamic faith, and those of Arabic or Persian origin, but it is necessary that we never forget that an American citizen is exactly that, an American citizen.

The old battle lines are still drawn. Black people are still faced with the harsh bigotry and crippling inequality. Women still fail to earn wages equal to their male counterparts, and still find it difficult to find justice in our courts when made victims of sexual crimes. And over these are the new battle lines, the fight for equality of all people based upon their sexual orientation, the fight to ensure the liberties of those unfortunate enough to be caught in the whirlwind of terror in this country, and so many more.

We will not win them in our lifetimes, nor will our children. But we fight, and we make things better, and we teach our children. We teach our children right and wrong, and we teach them how to stand up in the face of racism and sexism and homophobia and in that generational accord, in that passed down knowledge of social justice, that is where you’ll find the true heart of America. Not in the battles won, but in the battles themselves, and that is what I gained from Dr. King.

I thank him gratefully for helping pave the path that allowed my family to be what it is today, but I thank him also for that clarity of purpose that this fight is far from over, and it’s going to take us all coming together to keep fighting it.

Happy Birthday Dr. King. Thank you.

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