It is hard to believe that 50 years have passed since the fateful March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King seized the hearts and minds of this nation. He laid out his vision for a future not defined by the chains of bigotry but rather reinvigorated with the ideals of shared prosperity and racial harmony. He had a “Dream,” and it is important for Americans of color to use this anniversary as a moment to take stock of our successes, our failures, and our aspirations going forward. However, we should also recognize that Dr. King alone did not make the March peaceful and successful. If not for the work of A. Philip Randolph who first envisioned a march on Washington in 1941, the extraordinary organizing feats of Bayard Rustin, along with support and mobilization skills of women like Dr. Dorothy Height (who was not allowed to speak, nor was any woman) that glorious day would never have happened.
It is ironic that we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington with our nations first Black president; for despite the strides we have made over the past decades and the many reasons we have to celebrate, there are disturbing patterns and systemic attitudes that continue to persist and choke back our progress in this country. This year, we have experienced injustices that rattled our communities and wrenched our hearts: the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Supreme Court’s harebrained rulings on the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, and the NYPD’s continued use of rampant racial profiling in their policing methods. Yes, there are reasons to question our progress and to wonder how far we have actually come from the not-so-distant past. But do not let these injustices break our resolve or weaken our commitment to realizing Dr. King’s dream. If anything, let these grievances inspire us to channel his spirit in our daily lives, to help each other overcome these obstacles, and to be steadfast advocates for our own rights and humanity until the day comes when all the diverse communities of this nation stand united as brother and sister and drink from the rivers of prosperity and freedom.
Bertha Lewis is president of The Black Institute