As we approach the third Monday of January in the year 2020 + overtime, there is a simple question that all Americans are asking themselves, whether we want to admit it or not:
Do we still believe in his “Dream”?
Many conservatives use MLK Day to discuss the American Dream – and Dr. King’s Dream – of being “…judged (not) by the color of (one’s) skin but by the content of (one’s) character…” They discuss Dr. King’s deep Christian faith and commitment to non-violence as examples of the best ways to protest, to live, and to affect social change in America. After the elections of 2020, the scourge of the pandemic, the economic pain we are enduring, and the shadows of violent eruptions in the streets of Seattle and the grounds of the US Capitol, I ask: do we still believe in his “Dream”, particularly in January 2021 and enough to eschew justifications of bad behavior for the moral high-ground and the visionary’s obligation to be better during leadership?
Many liberals use MLK’s words – particularly “…a riot is the language of the unheard…” – as the barometer to measure the escalation of mean-spiritedness and outright hatred that we have seen from Pittsburgh to Atlanta over the years, including 2020. They see his push for access to economic prosperity and equity in treatment as an outright condemnation of capitalism without remembering that it was the power of economics that shaped and supported civil rights successes across America. After a half-century of failures of economic policies that shuffle poverty around the map while education, employment, and healthcare disparities still strangle Black America, I ask: do we still believe in his “Dream”, particularly in January 2021 and enough to eschew the rehashed methods of remedying systemic wrongs that create two vastly different lifestyles and sets of expectations for American citizens – those deemed “equal” via the Constitution?
Dr. King’s dream was much more than the playbook to bring about social and legislative wins during a deeply troubling time in American history. If that were simply the case, that would be enough for us to use as a foundation to get through the division we have been living through over the past several years. And yet, his message is about so much more. The legacy of Dr. King’s work was this ability to build a movement of talented, focused, and determined Americans around him – people from an array of backgrounds – to obtain the unfathomable vision for the disadvantaged. Much of his contribution centers around the collective intelligence necessary to leverage both the youth and the established to force a better way of life for future generations – even as it took enduring beatings, jailings, and murders. Often overlooked in his movement’s collective work was its ability to reflect the false notions of the Constitution for Blacks throughout the late 1800s and all the 1900s (to that point) while bending the arc of history – and the words of the Constitution – back to a fuller interpretation of justice.
Dr. King’s dream did not watch malfeasance in government, in schools, in communities, and in families from a guarded viewpoint. His inspiration prompted more than a jaundiced eye; it prompted a powerful step, a head held high, and an open hand for grasping justice. Justice did not take sides base on man’s interpretations through race, partisanship, or socioeconomic background. Justice stood with the promise of the American Dream, demanding fulfillment on “…a sacred obligation…” that has been incomplete as a mark against our patriotism.
Do we still believe in his “dream”, even if the solution is radical enough for us to redefine modern conservativism for the better, adjust the actions of the disadvantaged for transformative and positive change, mold modern liberalism in the image of America’s best intent, and guide the interactions of scared and frustrated Americans towards a more perfect Union once again?
We will hear a lot of folks at MLK Day Prayer Breakfasts and politicians’ speeches on Monday. We will see how much we really do honor Dr. King and his legacy starting this week and throughout the months to come.