Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Happy MLK Day, Everybody!

Happy MLK Day, everybody.

Just the fact that we have had to fight for this great leader’s birthday to be recognised as a national holiday is enough to tell us how significant his contribution was. My Mom was part of the campaign to make it a State holiday in Hawaii – because there was resistance even after it had become a national holiday.

I remember the late author Toni Cade Bambara saying once, ‘My grandfather can walk on the sidewalk’. Not that big a deal for those of us who take this right for granted. But I am old enough to be able to remember the days when, in some parts of the country, if white folks told you not to walk on the sidewalk, you didn’t risk it. Not because of what they might do to you. But because they could come after your whole family.

Voting – well, I would argue that voting has not made a lot of difference for us. After all, the man who has been in the White House for the past seven years wasn’t even elected. Seems like the same old story to me.

But it’s easy for me to say that. I can vote for whomever I choose and then argue about whether or not it matters. I could, if I wanted to, sit down at a McDonald’s or any other fast food joint and eat my lunch. I can remember a time when it was illegal to do that in lots of places south of the Mason Dixon line. People were being arrested for even trying. And I am not that old.

In the present climate, perhaps it requires an act of imagination to remember the extraordinary courage with which one man stood up against the authorities and societal conventions of his time, and inspired thousands of others to stand up with him and march behind him. Without blaming, without name-calling, without anger and recriminations, and with peace in his heart. He knew that a better future for African Americans would mean a better future for everyone.

And yes, we still have a long way to go. I’ve just seen this very interesting blog:
Middle Class Dream Eludes African-Americans

Katrina woke up a lot of folks to the reality of poverty and deprivation that is life for many African American people. Still. In this day and age. In what is still one of the most powerful and prosperous nations on the planet. Shame. Deep, deep shame.

Who will be our next leader? I’ve been hearing people ask this question for at least 30 years now. And my answer is always the same – look in the mirror. We cannot wait for another leader to come along and do it for us. We must do for ourselves and each other.

On this day, we celebrate the life of one man who helped put us in the position we can contemplate, discuss, plan and organise the next step. That next step us up to us.

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