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What would Dr. King say about progress and 2024?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King didn’t originate peaceful protest as a means to command attention to human needs.  He simply raised it to an art form.  He and those working with him came closer to perfecting that process than anyone before or after.  His strategy for social change is the template for movements globally.

The nation this week celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Dr. King.  No other African American has received such recognition.  The Bill making the third Monday in January a national holiday was signed into law by Republican conservative sweetheart President Ronald Reagan.

Gary played a distinct role in the process of bringing the Bill to fruition. Mayor Richard Hatcher, whose national profile in the mid-80s rivaled that of any political contemporary, was an articulate proponent.  As First Congressional Democratic Chair, Hatcher selected Katie Hall to complete the unexpired term of U.S. Representative Adam Benjamin Jr.

That fortuitous move paid dividends when Mrs. Hall became author and sponsor of The King Bill, passed by the House of Representatives and Senate, then signed into law November 2, 1983 in a Rose Garden ceremony attended by Coretta Scott King and Congresswoman Hall.  The first national observation of the King Holiday was in 1986.

It is incumbent on us to acknowledge the role of Hall and Hatcher in this annual celebration.  We should teach it to the children.

Invariably, someone in public or government meetings, church or community commemorations, classrooms or just the corner barber shop, will pose the inevitable query:  What would Dr. King think about America in 2024?

You already know the answer.  It would be a mixed bag.

He would be proud that an African American rose to the office of President of the United States – leader of the free world – but disappointed by the disgraceful, disrespectful treatment of the Obama presidency by politicians at every level, the media and much of the general public. But it was historic.

Dr. King would celebrate unprecedented levels of education for Blacks in the U.S. but decry the neglect of public education and a society that is increasingly making higher education inaccessible for the poor. He would despise ways in which history is being rewritten to marginalize or ignore Blacks.

He would applaud the increase of African American as CEOs of major corporations but lament the painfully slow progress and too frequent stagnation in those areas as well as the fact that Blacks remain last hired and first fired under the looming presence of a glass ceiling. Diversity, equity and inclusion have become menacing to corporate America.

Dr. King might be amazed by the number of African Americans who have achieved unimaginable success in sports and entertainment but would likely be gravely saddened about their lack of consciousness in terms of giving back to their people, and their reluctance to take a stand.

Contrasts between the last year Dr. King was alive, 1968, and life in the new millennium are stunning.  The level of hope for the future remains immeasurable.  But the reality of escalating contempt between the races in many areas, police brutality, political insensitivity, and putting foreign affairs over domestic needs would cause Dr. King stress.

And with his anti-war sentiments, we don’t even have to go there, to an America where wars begin but never end.

Perhaps most disturbing of all would be the fact that Black Americans continue to frame him and his legacy in the context of the supernatural. That we revere the man that Dr. King was for the world without equivalent regard for his commitment. That we speak about the changes he precipitated as opposed to internalizing his work as part of our own responsibility and call to action.

The martyred civil rights leader may be most disappointed that too many people still search for “the next Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Instead, he would want awareness that his greatest lesson to Black America was to look within for change, and that we all harbor the potential for greatness in our individual capacity to serve.

There could really be no greater tribute to the King Legacy.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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