Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Our Dream Lives On

Aug 30, 2010

If purpose, courage and resolution define success, then this past weekend in Washington, DC was an unmistakable accomplishment for the tens of thousands that braved the sweltering heat to join the National Action Network as we commemorated the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his ‘I Have a Dream Speech’.  Echoing his call for racial, social, political and economic justice, we peacefully convened at Dunbar High School as many of our leading thinkers like Avis DeWeever of the National Council of Negro Women, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Ben Jealous of the NAACP, Marc Morial of the National Urban League, Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, myself and others addressed the lingering challenges currently facing our nation.  The multiethnic, ageless audience watched in earnest as a local high school student received a $100,000 scholarship towards her college education.  And the dedicated attendees of this Saturday’s rally marched the five miles to the National Mall despite exhaustion, despite above 90-degree temps and despite their own personal comfort because they understood the necessity of honoring Dr. King and collectively chanting our voices.

It was 1963, when Dr. King had penned the infamous words for his ‘I Have a Dream Speech’.  Calling on the Federal government to intervene whenever and wherever states failed to ensure our inalienable rights, he grasped the importance of universal laws that protected oppressed groups when local ones clearly did not.  And he was unafraid to highlight the numerous ways in which people of color were still lagging behind the rest of society and therefore called for a day when the dream could one day be fulfilled.  But what the year 1963 also represented was another legendary era of Dr. King’s tremendous legacy – it was during that time, just a few months prior to ‘I Have a Dream’, that he wrote the moving, intellectual commentary, ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is arguably one of the most quoted lines from that letter that was literally written from a cell in Birmingham, Alabama.  But in addition to citing unjust legal laws, and urging White moderates to fight for the cause of civil rights, Dr. King poignantly called on right-wing conservative preachers to end their own hypocrisy.  Addressing his ‘fellow clergymen’, he questioned how men of the cloth could preach of God and morality, and yet deny justice to Blacks in America.  How could they make religious arguments for peace and humanity, and yet ignore blatant bigotry and social inequities in their own backyards?  From his Birmingham prison, Dr. King asked how men of God and moral fortitude could turn their backs on the oppressed and instead push further division between the races.
Forty-seven years later, we are unfortunately asking the very same thing.  A short distance away from our historic gathering this past Saturday, a different sort of rally was taking place.  Draped in notions of religious rhetoric, this event and its leader used humane concepts of family, charity and conviction to mask an ulterior purpose.  If history has taught us anything, it is to be extremely vigilant and weary when conservatives cloak themselves in religion to mask their true message.  From Jerry Falwell to Pat Robertson, to George Bush Jr., time and again we have witnessed callous men prey on the religious values of Americans in order to push forth their own self-aggrandizing agendas.  And unfortunately, in 2010 it is no different.

So let us not be fooled nor distracted by the oratory and theatrics of those that choose to divide us.  Let us instead remain focused on what Dr. King and his dream actually exemplified – a united body of citizenry with an equal footing in all factors of life.  Let us honor his dream, continue reliving the dream and work to turn this dream into a reality for our children tomorrow – and for decades to come.