If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live. --- Martin Luther King, Jr., speech, Detroit, Michigan, June 23, 1963
Today, we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in our own ways. I was not fortunate enough to have seen Dr. King while he was alive, but he still transformed my life, and the lives of everyone reading this post right now.
King rose to prominence at a time of great social and political upheaval. Blacks in particular had been freed from the bonds of slavery, but they were still slaves to terror and racism. Dr. King sought to change that by conveying a message of hope and of duty. His words and actions put a mirror beside our culture, and we didn't like what we saw. Rioting, police using tear gas on people who only wanted to be treated as equals, beatings, protestors being knocked down with fire hoses. No, we didn't like what we saw, so we embarked on a path to change it.
Where are we now? Some would say we haven't made much progress at all, based on smaller details and numbers crunching. Others would say we've gone quite a ways, so far that blacks and whites can co-exist happily. I'm somewhere in the middle, but closer to the latter than to the former. African-Americans in this country have made tremendous strides and are rightly taking their places beside whites.
But we still have miles to go before we sleep. Gang violence, drugs, teenage pregnancy, school dropout rates, all of these and more have plagued African-Americans and continue to do so. And, unfortunately, those who speak out about these and other issues, they get branded as "race traitors" or maligned for "acting white." Yet, rappers and sports stars are glorified, no matter how horribly they act, because they're "keeping it real."
Yet, Dr. King's message resounds through the ages, giving hope and fire to anyone who cares to listen and take action. And as he stated in the quotation I quoted above, he was willing to die for his beliefs of racial equality. He may not have lived to see it and we may not have gotten there completely yet, but we're making progress nonetheless.
And that's keeping Dr. King's dream alive more than anything.