To the Point for 1/12/2006

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I HAVE A DREAM… This coming Monday is the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The holiday falls at this time in observance of his birthday, but although it comes quickly on the heels of Christmas and New Year’s Day, it is a holiday honoring a life that we all need to remember and respect.

The son of a school teacher and a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King rose from a childhood in segregated Atlanta, Georgia to the face and the voice of the civil rights movement.

Many times people think of the civil rights movement and the following civil rights legislation and view it as an end to government-sanctioned inequalities for African-Americans.

It was that — and more.

What the Civil Rights Act did in the 1960s was proclaim that throughout this land, America was truly a land of opportunities. It said that men and women had equal standing with others without regard to race.

It said that the American Dream was accessible to everyone; and although the doors may have opened too slowly for some — they continue to open each and everyday.

And the philosophies and the charisma of Dr. King still have a lot to do with that — even nearly 40 years after his assassination.

Some remember the 1960s as a decade marked with violence, and in many ways it was. But in Dr. King the African-Americans living in the South were told to fight the establishment in a different way — a non-violent one.

He led thousands in peaceful marches to spread the word of their feeling that they were being unjustly treated. What is unfortunate is that many of those marches that began peacefully soon turned violent at the hands of those running the “Old South”.

When Rose Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger, many in the Black community looked to respond with emotion rather than with thought.

Dr. King brought those emotions under control, and instead organized a boycott of the bus system — choosing to hit the government financially. Without African-Americans paying their fares to ride the buses, the bus company soon saw the power of the movement — in their bank accounts.

I grew up in a predominantly white community; and then went to a predominantly white college before settling here in predominantly white Switzerland County.

That doesn’t mean that I am not sensitive to the plight of others in different parts of the country and the world.

Just as Gandhi led the people of India in civil disobedience to protest British rule in their country; Dr. King led his people to a level where they found pride in their nationality and in being citizens of this great “melting pot” we call America.

Henry David Thoreau once said that “…The individual, who grants the state its power in the first place, must follow the dictates of conscience in opposing unjust laws…”

That opposition to what is unjust rings through time, and it is as powerful a call to duty today as it was when Thoreau wrote it — or when Gandhi and King were inspired by it.

Dr. King led people to justice, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and his influence is still felt today — as you will hear throughout this country this Monday.

On August 28th, 1963, Dr. King led a march on Washington, D.C. in order to bring attention to the plight of those in the South and elsewhere.

As 250,000 people stood and listened, Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech that still rings today. Departing from his prepared speech, he spoke with passion about the need for this country to become “color blind” in order to move forward as a society.

The words he spoke that day still have a tremendous impact on me today, and as my children grow, I find myself with an even deeper appreciation for them:

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I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four 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.

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Does racism still exist? Yes, it does — on both sides of the issue. But what we each need to stop and think about is that what Dr. King spoke of is what we all truly want: to be judged by our character and not by our outward appearance.

It is a philosophy that crosses race and generations; and this Monday we should all stop and think about just that.