In a year swelling with racial tension and in a year marked by the uprising of leadership who seems to oppose its’ progress, remembering Martin Luther King Jr. today has felt especially significant. I just spent the last half an hour or so listening twice to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which I’ve done for the last few years. As he spoke with honesty and courage, there were a couple of moments when his voice seemed to quiver—perhaps with emphasis, perhaps with emotion, perhaps with fear. Whatever the reasoning, every time I hear his speech, especially the end with the most shaking of his voice, my eyes well up with tears because it really was not so long ago when Negro men and women lived in an America “sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression,” considering themselves, “in exile in [their] own land.”
I must say that I dread that day Gabe and I will have to sit down with Martell and explain that our experience and understanding of American history is and always will be different from his. I dread the day telling him that many, many years ago, his ancestors “had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.” I am ashamed to explain to him that people with my skin color were these said oppressors. I hate thinking about having conversations with him about hardship that still exists for him today due to the color of his skin. I think a part of the reason I feel such dread in having this conversation with our boy is because I feel a deep inability to identify with him, to feel the waves of shock with him, and to experience lingering injustice alongside him. I can do all the reading and research in the world, but I will never be able to look into his deep, dark browns and tell him from experience that in the face of such unfairness, I can still trust in a better America tomorrow.
While it’s easy for me to fear the conversation staying there in the pit of despair, it’s important for me to remember the great waves of progress that our America has and continues to make on behalf of justice and equality; on behalf of upholding the ideal that all men are created equal. So I do, however, look forward to teaching him about the Emancipation Proclamation and the great beacon of hope it was for so many oppressed men, women and children who were parched in a sea of hopelessness. I can’t wait to tell him of the progress that Dr. Martin Luther King spearheaded in fighting hard for rights that should have been granted one hundred years earlier. Although Negros were still not free, a great uprising of people—both black and white—joined together to take a stand against the poverty, segregation, cruelty and discrimination. They refused “to satisfy [their] thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” They chose to “conduct [their] struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”
I can’t wait to tell our son that the progress of our country includes our last president, his wife and their two beautiful young black daughters. For as Michelle Obama has said it, “That is the story of this country…The country of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done. So that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” The profoundness of that truth, and the cost that was paid by the heroes who fought and continue to fight for the equality of all black men and women doubles me over with pride and hope for a brighter, purer America one day.
So, thank you, Martin Luther King Jr. for the legacy of a peaceful fight for justice, and for the encouragement that “as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” Thank you to those who continue to press on for a better future for boys like my son. I have come to realize that his future is and would be bound to mine whether he was my son or not—for it is my job to raise up a generation who is compassionate, kindhearted, observant and strong in the face of injustice, for “now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
*All quotes unmarked are quotes said by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.