In a few short days, this country will witness history in the making. It will be the first time that a black President has been inaugurated for a second term. In this year we celebrate milestones that helped our nation achieve this feat. Two of those milestones happened in Washington, DC where the latest historical moment will also take place. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, abolishing slavery and making blacks free. Just 50 years ago, African Americans from across the country descended on the nation’s capital for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. During this march, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his infamous, “I Have A Dream” speech where he outlined his dream of what this nation could become. In a lifetime, this nation has become a place where a black man could live in the White House, not for one term, but two. When President Obama takes his oath for the second time, he will continue to tie together the legacy of these three great men as he uses President Lincoln’s Bible and Dr. King’s Bible for the public swearing in ceremony on the national King Holiday while facing the Lincoln Monument.
While the representation of all that these men fought for seems to be achieved, there is still much work to do. Dr. King’s dream is no more fulfilled than it was 50 years ago. That is not to say that there has not been progress in working toward the dream, but we are very much a nation still divided along lines of race and class; adding to that, there still exist gender and homosexual biases and bigotry. We have a long way to go before we can proclaim we’ve achieved the dream. Since the President was elected, there has been a rise in hate groups. Members of Congress have been called racial slurs and we have seen the President hung in effigy on numerous occasions. The dream of having equal rights in public spaces and accommodations has been achieved, but the question must be asked, have we achieve the dream referenced when Dr. King said in his iconic speech,
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of unspeakable horrors of police brutality…We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.”
Have we achieved the dream when blacks suffer from greater health disparities, obesity, rates of HIV/AIDS? The dream has not been achieved when black children continue to lag behind others in reading, math and science and exceed others in high school dropout rates. There is still more to dream about, to work towards, to fight for. The dream has not been achieved.
In the same month that blacks were freed from the bondage of slavery and on a day that observes the life and work of a man who helped blacks achieve a greater level of equality, we must not allow the work that remains to be diminished by what we have accomplished. We should not allow ourselves to romanticize the gains that have been made and allow ourselves to tell the story that the work is done. Barack Obama will become the first black President to be elected to a second term, but our story doesn’t end there. Until we can say that our children receive quality education, that our communities are flourishing with fulfilling jobs, that blacks are treated fairly in the criminal justice system, that we are healthy and thriving; until we can say that our wealth can effectively pass from one generation to the next, until our children can walk the streets without fearing for their lives or safety, until we can say that we’ve achieved all these things and more we should all keep working to achieve the dream.