This week we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King delivered the speech during the “March for Jobs and Freedom” on August 28, 1963 in Washington D. C. in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It was one of several speeches, but it is the one we all remember. There were upwards of 250,000 persons in attendance that day. The rally was a great success in that it brought attention to the plight of African Americans, and helped influence the Federal government to pass the Voting Rights Act and other laws designed to foster racial equality. MLK was unquestionably one of the most outstanding leaders of the 20th Century. It is a shame that his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.
The 50th anniversary celebration gave us all an opportunity to reflect on the progress made since 1963. Incidentally, it would have been more appropriate for the sponsors to include conservative black leaders, such as Ben Carson, Allan Webb and/or Herman Cain as speakers. That would have made the event fair and balanced, as it should have been.
So, are African Americans better off today than they were 50 years ago? The African American unemployment rate is roughly double that of whites; the high school and college graduation rates are lower; they are much more likely to be the victim of a crime; and, most significantly, 72% of African American babies are born out of wedlock. With respect to leadership, African Americans have many leaders, but, unfortunately, none of them can hold a candle to Dr. King. An objective observer, however, would have to admit that African Americans have come a long way since 1963. Although much more needs to be done, by many measurements they are considerably better off than they were 50 years ago. For example:
1. We all acknowledge the importance of education to success in America. Their high school graduation rate, though less than for Whites, is 85% compared to 26% in 1963. The college graduation rate is 21% versus 4% in 1963.
2. We have comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, which are designed to prevent discrimination against many classes of individuals, including African Americans, in situations, such as jobs and education, among others. Although there are still some instances of overt discrimination, they are few and far between, and are usually redressed in the courts. In fact, the biggest controversy in this area is that in an age of political correctness, some people maintain that “reverse discrimination” exists in some cases.
3. The country has elected an African American President and a bevy of Congressmen, governors and mayors. This was inconceivable in 1963.
4. There are numerous examples of successful African Americans in business, entertainment and sports who, intentionally or not, act as role models.
PREDICTION AND CONCLUSION
Success in America requires hard work, self-reliance, accepting responsibility for your own actions and the will to overcome any and all obstacles in order to achieve. This formula holds true for both Whites and minorities. Yes, the path to success is easier if one is born into a family with caring, nurturing parents and wealth, but there have been countless cases of individuals who have overcome poverty and other obstacles to succeed. President Obama, himself, is a prime example.
In my opinion, many African American leaders and role models prefer to create controversy and “stir the pot” for their own reasons. In point of fact, sometimes they do more harm than good. Mr. Sharpton is guilty of that, but he is not the only one, just one of the most prominent. Influential African American entertainers, sports figures and politicians (we all know who they are) should be speaking out about the really important issues, such the out-of-wedlock birth rate, absentee fathers, poor parenting, gratuitous crime and violence and reliance on entitlements. The Bill Cosbys of the world are few and far between. The government cannot lift you up; you must do it yourself, and accept responsibility for your own actions or inactions.
President Obama is uniquely positioned to speak out – raised by a single parent, Harvard educated, President of the country. He is the role model of role models. He has tremendous influence and credibility, which he can use in a positive way, if only he would do so. Why hasn’t he? Your guess is as good as mine.
So, I challenge African American leaders and role models that if you REALLY want to help, speak up in a positive, constructive way, not in an inflammatory, divisive way. After all, to paraphrase what Congressman John Lewis said in his speech on Tuesday: “We are all in the same house, the same boat. We are living together in AMERICA’S house.”