Rodney Long: Keepers of the dream

Published: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 7:42 p.m.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission of Florida, Inc. It’s hard to believe that we have celebrated the birth and commemorated the life of Dr. King for two-and-a-half decades.

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August 28, 2008, marked the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech “I Have A Dream,” given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

And, no doubt the most significant event in 2008 was the election of President-elect Barack Obama on Nov. 4, 2008. The first African-American elected to serve as president of the United States.

On Jan. 20, the world will witness the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America. Probably like many of you, I must confess, that I never envisioned the election of an African-American as president in my lifetime.

While on this point, many are questioning whether or not we are living the dream that Dr. King spoke of in his speech more than 45 years ago when he said:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

As we celebrate King Celebration ’09 and this years theme: “Living the Dream, 45 Years Later,” we will examine through our many speakers and activities as to whether or not we are “Living the Dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On the surface it does show that we have come a long way in America as it relates to one aspect of Dr. King’s vision; that is, “a person should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Before we jump to the conclusion that we are all equal in America, we must re-examine the many causes for which he stood and ultimately paid the ultimate sacrifice. In re-examining these causes we must compare them to where we are today to determine if indeed we have “overcome” or just over achieved.

As we discuss this week, month, year and perhaps decade on whether Dr. King’s dream has been realized with the election of President-elect Obama, let’s remember that each of us are keepers of the dream. Dr. King spent his entire adult life fighting for freedom, justice and equality for all.

As keepers of the dream, we must remember Dr. King’s words of “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If Dr. King were alive today, what would he do about the injustice that 47 million people have no health care insurance in America?

As a keeper of the dream and fighter for justice, what are you doing to address the injustice that one out of every four black males are on some type of criminal justice supervision?

Is it an injustice that millions of Americans across this land will go to bed hungry tonight?

In comparing the state of the dream from then to now, what would Dr. King have done when it was determined that we were spending billions of dollars in fighting an unjust war while millions of people are losing or have lost their homes to foreclosures?

I can go on and on about injustices locally and nationally, but the bottom line is, what are you doing to address it?

As we embark upon one of the most historic years in our lifetime, let’s not rest on the accomplishment that we have elected a person of color as president; therefore, we have overcome the many problems facing Americans regardless of race.

President-elect Obama cannot and will not solve all of the problems facing this world, country and state. Locally, we must work collectively to solve our own problems.

This year the Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission of Florida, Inc., will again partner with the African American Accountability Alliance (4As), the School Board and other organizations to address the achievement gap, graduation rate, and the infusion of African-American History in our schools.

With the pending closure of Alachua General Hospital, we will work with Shands, the 4As, Action Network, health care professionals, faith leaders and other organizations to ensure that the delivery of health care to our most neediest citizens — more specifically those living in the eastern part of the county — will continue.

As we celebrate our 25th anniversary and the historic election of President-elect Obama, let’s not forget that there’s much work to be done to fulfill Dr. King’s dream.

Although the inauguration of the first African-American president will be historic and unbelievable, we must not lose sight of the fact that President-elect Obama, along with millions of us — regardless of race, sex, creed, national origin or sexual orientation — are the beneficiaries of the sacrifices made by countless individuals who were lynched, beaten, endured racial intimidation, participated in the civil rights movement and, for some, paid the ultimate sacrifice, death.

As we celebrate this historic year, I leave you with these words that came to mind the night I watched the historic election while reflecting on the words of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech:

If Rosa Parks had not sat down, Martin would have never marched, and if Martin had never marched, Barack Obama could not have run to become the president of the United States of America.

Rodney Long is a county commissioner and chair of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission of Florida, Inc.

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