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.
-The Declaration of Independence
As we get set to enjoy a three day weekend, I want to urge everyone to take a few moments to reflect on why we are off on Monday.
In April, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Tennessee where he was shot and killed by an assassin's bullet. The day before his death, King delivered a prophetic speech, his famous "I've Been to the Mountain Top" speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1L8y-MX3pg&feature=related).
Martin Luther King, Jr., born on January 15, 1929, grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of 15, King enrolled in college. He earned degrees in sociology and theology and became a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama where he organized a boycott of city buses in response to the treatment of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. The result of this boycott was a US Supreme Court ruling that deemed bus segregation unconstitutional.
In August of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the famous March on Washington, where a crowd of more than 250,000 blacks and whites heard his famous "I Have a Dream" speech (http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=1759663481).
The legacy of Dr. King lives on today, more than four decades after his death. It is difficult to grasp the fact that in my lifetime there were Americans who were not able to enjoy basic rights in their own country. It is difficult for me to come to grips with the fact that, while we teach about the abolition of slavery in 1863, over 100 years later, and in my lifetime, there were Americans who were not given the equality granted by the Declaration of Independence.
As a former history teacher, I know that most students look at history as a study of things that happened a long time ago. Our children look at the mid sixties as "a long time ago." My guess though is that most of you were alive in the mid 1960's. Right? As you think about the work of Dr. King, remember that he led the fight for equality for all Americans during our lifetime. The Montgomery bus boycott took place in 1955, not 1855. The "I Have a Dream" speech was not delivered in the time of Abraham Lincoln, it was delivered in the time of you and me.
We live in a largely homogenous community - a very white, very middle to upper middle class community. There is nothing wrong with that, my children have grown up in the same environment. When we live in this type of community, however, it is easy for racism to creep into our lives. When there is so much "sameness" it is easy for us to be critical, judgmental and scared of "differentness." I have to say, it is refreshing to see that our students have not fallen prey to the evils of racism. While that is a credit to their upbringing, I want to remind you that the battle cannot be considered won.
Our kids are still young - most of them pre-teens. As they move forward, they will be exposed to a world that is less and less tolerant. It is true that today, in 2010, we are closer to the "dream" of Martin Luther King, Jr., but, sadly, the dream has not been totally realized. Hate groups exist. Racism exists. Sexism exists. We constantly hear about people who wield hatred and violence against others based on their religion, their color, or their sexual orientation. As our kids move forward, we need to equip them with the tools to fight the hatred that exists outside of the protective fortresses that we have created to protect them - our schools, our churches, our homes.
Regardless of your personal morality, I am sure we all share the belief that all human beings, whether they are the same as "us" or different from "us," should be treated with respect and with the rights endowed by our creator. As Americans, we all have a responsibility to continue to fight for Dr. King's dream that one day our children "will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." As Americans, we all have a responsibility to leave our children with an America where men and women stand together despite their differences. As Americans, we all have a responsibility to assure that our country lives out the idea that "all men our created equal."
In a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, who was there when Martin Luther King, Jr. was fatally shot, shared his thoughts on the state of King's dream.
"Each generation must find what it can do to help keep the dream alive," he said. "As a witness, I can confess that you can kill the dreamer, but you cannot absolutely kill the dream. The dream is very much alive," he said.
I Have Been to the Mountain Top
I Have a Dream
"Dream is Very Much Alive," Says Friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.