I believe that Martin Luther King’s vision was of an America where all people, of every color, of every creed, of every economic strata, would be able to exploit the promises of the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution as well as the opportunities extended by an economic system that awards innovation and hard work. His voice was lifted for the goals of inclusion and equal opportunity. He wanted all to be respected according to the dignity given them by God.
Sadly, too many remain outside the house of promise, of opportunity, of respect. While much progress has been made, too many are weighed down by burdens placed on them by virtue of their color, the economic strata into which they are born, their creed and, now, by their disabilities or the simple fact that they are waiting to be born. Could King have imagined a day in America where a group of people face literal extinction on the basis of their perceived disability, or that the most dangerous place for an African-American person is his or her mother’s womb? Could King have imagined a time in America where more black men and women are victims of black-on-black murder every year than were lynched in all the combined years from the end of Reconstruction to his own assassination in 1968? Could King have imagined a time when young black men and women, graduating from the most prestigious university in the country, demand a segregated ceremony? Could King have imagined a time when almost 75% of black children are born to single mothers, contributing to overwhelming poverty (the poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits for more than two decades).
Clearly there is much that still needs to be done to fight institutional racism in the United States. The police brutality that King condemned in his “I Have a Dream” speech remains a problem. African-Americans desiring to own a home or start up a business still face redlining and discrimination in lending by banks. Integration of schools has proved a dismal failure in too many American cities, and school funding remains woefully unequal. Attitudes among whites that racism is no longer a problem in America is rooted in either wishful thinking or pure fantasy.
Even still, the identity politics embraced by many blacks and their would-be allies in the political arena and in social justice organizations will do nothing but set the clock back on progress made in race relations and equality of opportunity. It may be, though, that improved race relations and equality of opportunity are not the goals. I am deeply cynical that many politicians on the right exploit the pro-life movement, making promises they have no intention of keeping because if pro-life issues were resolved they would no longer be “hot-button” issues on which they could continue to run for office. Plus, there are some who just aren’t genuinely pro-life. Just so, I am deeply cynical of many politicians on the left, including some in leadership in the black community who, out of a desire to exploit the African-American community for political or financial gain, or out of pure racism, have no desire to deliver on the promises extended each election cycle.
What is the answer? As always it comes down to personal responsibility and initiative. We have to stop relying on politicians and so-called leaders to deliver what they cannot possibly deliver: a life well-lived and opportunities grasped. For every person, not just blacks, who face discrimination and unequal burdens, there is nothing to do but make good choices and grasp every opportunity available.
What that means, practically, is this:
1. Graduate from high school;
2. Get a full-time job;
3. Wait until you are 21 to marry, and wait until you marry to have children.
No politician, no preacher, no teacher, no social leader or social justice organization can make these decisions for you. It’s all on you, as an individual. But, there is ample evidence that doing these three things will almost always save you from falling into poverty.
There are plenty of other barriers African-Americans face than poverty. But, economic security opens doors for other opportunities, and there is nothing like poverty to keep you down, regardless of your race. There is little hope of realizing Dr. King’s dream for America and for blacks in America if fully two-thirds are gripped by poverty.
Keep the dream alive.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.