The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was officially dedicated in Washington, D.C. Sunday October 16, 2011. President Barack Obama addressed the thousands of invited guests, including civil rights leaders, R&B artists, political figures, fashion figures and members of King’s family, on the 16th anniversary of the Million Man March on the National Mall. The event proved to be emotional for guests who attended as many could be seen wipping tears from their eyes as different presenters spoke about King’s legacy; it also proved to be special for those who lived through the Civil Rights Movement as well as for those reflecting on how far we have come since then and how far we still have to go.
In August of 1963, King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. The speech was only 17 minutes long, but the effect it had on our society has lasted to this day. King talked about the struggles of African Americans in their quest for racial equality in America and ended with words that are still relevant nearly 50 years later:
“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
When I reflect on these words today, a few questions come to mind. If he were alive, what would King think of our society now? Did his dream come true? Was his vision for a harmonious, equal society fulfilled? What about his mention of religion? Can our nation’s numerous faith groups really “join hands and sing” together on this journey of life?
While much progress has been made in these areas, there is still much to be done. It is true that we no longer have the overt “Black Codes” or “Jim Crow” laws that mandated racial segregation in the 1800s and early 1900s, but issues regarding tolerance and discrimination that King alluded to, still remain. Our laws might have changed, but there are still those of us who are too quick to judge others based on external factors such as appearance, economic status, and sexual or religious affiliation instead of getting to know a person on a human level.
Respect and education remains key in changing the attitudes and beliefs of our citizens, whether it is in the classroom or on the street. On the subject of religion, we have begun to open minds through interfaith work and community service. My hope is that we can make progress in other areas as well and that one day, King’s dream comes true; That there comes a day when we can actually join hands and say that we are “free at last!”