Youth must fulfill Dr. King's vision

Published: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 11:47 p.m.

On Aug. 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others organized the largest integrated protest march of the civil rights movement on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In his "I Have a Dream Speech," Dr. King shares the following vision:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sister and brothers. I have a dream today."

The other day, I had the opportunity to talk with a group of middle school students from Lincoln Middle School about the life of Dr. King.

The class was a wonderful mixture of kids from all races, social and ethnic backgrounds from the Lyceum and ESP programs.

While talking with these students, it occurred to me that the majority of them had little or no real understanding of who Dr. King was, what principles he espoused and ultimately gave his life for, the civil rights movement, integration, busing, the Vietnam War, Malcolm X, Brown vs. the Board of Education case where the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, the Ku Klux Klan or John F. Kennedy.

I asked myself while leaving, how much of the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s is being taught in our public school system? If this turbulent period in our American history is not being taught, as it occurred, then how will our next generation understand what their role in Dr. King's vision is?

This year's King Week theme, "Bridging the Next Generation," will hopefully begin the dialogue of calling to action our young people of all racial, social, ethnic and religious backgrounds in order that they can receive the baton of the struggle and lead.

The time has come for many of us who are out here on the front lines continuing the fight of non-violent social change demonstrated by Dr. King and countless others to bridge the gap with the next generation and step aside.

The next generation must understand that it is their responsibility to carry forth the fight for social, economic and political justice. They must understand that if the world is to become a better place, they must step forward. We must teach them that the challenges of tomorrow are theirs to resolve.

They must realize that the solutions to solving our country's problems will not be found in Madden 2003, MP3, or MTV. But they will emerge when they take the time and sit down with the older generations and develop a strategy for change and a transition of power.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. would like to form a support group consisting of young leaders from all walks of life to prepare them to continue the struggle and find solutions for the challenges of tomorrow.

We would like to begin this initiative on April 4, 2003, in honor of the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King. If you are interested, contact us at (352) 376-2442.

"Bridging the Next Generation" starts now. The challenge of "bridging the gap" is issued to all of our young people regardless of color, social status, ethnicity, religious or political persuasion.

Dr. King's vision of "one day little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sister and brothers" has arrived.

The question for our next generation is: Are you ready to take the baton?

Rodney J. Long is an Alachua County commissioner and president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc.

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