In the past when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday came around, I would reflect on how far we’ve come as a country since his assassination five decades ago. I’ve been at peace with what I thought had been progression during my lifetime.
The night of November 8, 2016, early November 9, my perspective totally shifted in a way I never would have expected. My native land – a land built on the blood sweat and tears of my ancestors, a land which had endured slavery, a civil war, brown vs board of education, the loss of King, Malcolm, and Kennedy within the same decade, and the election of an African-American commander in chief, twice, had shown its true colors. The United States of America instantly became the separated states of America – or has it always been?
But now that another MLK holiday is among us, as well as another inaugural ceremony for the president-elect of these “United” States, I can’t help but wonder if Dr. King’s dream ever really came true.
Langston Hughes wrote a poem in 1951, entitled “What happens to a dream deferred?” which served as inspiration for Lorraine Hansbury’s award-winning stage play, A Raisin in the Sun. Hughes’ writing was relevant to King’s famous dream declared on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 12 years later. I believe it’s no coincidence that Hansbury died on January 16.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I am not suggesting that the fruits of Dr. King and other Civil Rights Activists’ labor is in vain. Yes, today his 4 little children would now be able to live in a nation where they could attend any school of their choice, drink from any fountain and ride in any part of the bus they’s like; but in 2017, would they honestly, truly be judged by the color of their skin or by content of their character?
As President Obama mentioned in his farewell address last week, race relations are indeed better than they were “10, 20 or 30 years ago[…]but we’re not where we need to be.”
Dr. King began his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” acknowledging the sense of freedom the Negro felt after the 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation “five score” years prior. Slavery had ended. But there Dr. King stood, in the “symbolic shadow” of President Lincoln in 1963, 100 years later, and the negro still was not free.
You can read and listen to the speech in its entirety here.
In four days, the 45th president of the United States will be sworn in on that very same platform. A man who has made more racist remarks than rational resolutions. A man whose entire campaign mirrored George Wallace’s segregationist governance in Alabama 50 years ago. Wallace stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
If given the opportunity to speak to Hughes today, I would suggest that perhaps the answer is [a dream deferred] eventually explodes. If anything positive has emerged from this horrendous election, it’s that it has sparked a collective burning desire to evoke serious change. This election is what we absolutely needed to really wake up, to recognize just how far we have to go as a country. It was necessary to get us up our feet and ready run with Dr. King’s dream. Here are some ways you can both cope with this election (because I know it’s hard), as well as ways to be a part of this dream.
This was to remind us that the road to an equal nation did not stop after two terms of an African American president. Know that this week is simply the beginning of an explosion – of justice, equality, unity, fairness, hope, change, peace, voice, truth, and most importantly, love.