Fifty years have passed since the historic oration given by King in the summer of 1963. In the years of torment that embroiled the childhoods’ of many Boomers (and the first Gen X-ers), a voice of peace spoke to the masses gathered in Washington DC on that hot August day.
As a child of 1 Boomer and 1 Quiet, I was raised with a focus on seeing people for who they were, not the characteristics that defined them. This could have had as much to do with my diverse urban environment as my parents and teachers consistently guiding me to value people as people, and not lose myself to quick judgments. Stereotypes may have been helpful when determining snap judgments for survival like food and predators in early times, but in society today it remains an issue rooted in much of the conflicts we face.
We cannot blame stereotypes for all of society’s issues. When lack of knowledge leads to fear and fear leads to hate, no one receives the dream that King envisioned and that so many have struggled to make real. Racism still holds an insidious grip on the hearts of many in this world. It could be much less pronounced, often seen as “inappropriate,” but it still seeks to divide people. It may not be possible to eliminate all snap judgments (again, our brains saving energy and taking shortcuts rather than thinking), but people around the world need to see a shared community that takes the lead over smaller divisive issues. If we see ourselves as part of the community, even disagreements and tough feelings can be addressed effectively.
In preparing this post, I read Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” and thought about the progress that has been made over 50 years. Hughes wrote the poem more than 12 years before the historic march, but the imagery is deeply prescient for today’s society. The poem questions what happens to a deferred dream, and over the years I believe there have been moments to match each description. We have entered the crust stage as people try to sugarcoat the issues of racism claiming to be in a “post-racial” world. The issue is still there, only our treatment has changed. The same could be said of the equally insidious problem of poverty in this country when so many work and can’t reach financial equilibrium because the system won’t allow it.
Millennials may focus much on the inner self, but when it comes to the suffering of others, we don’t think it appropriate to sit by and do nothing. To be frank, we feel it’s the right of every individual to achieve the level of personal development that the individual wishes, and things like racism and poverty aren’t helping that process. As trials and legislation flash through the 24 hour news cycle, we must try to see the issues from all perspectives and find ways of balancing justice and amending the habits and the hurts of our past.
In order to make King’s dream a reality, we need to see ourselves as the people of the dream. We must embrace our neighbors, respect all people as they are, and live as part of a larger community. No great accomplishment or terrible wrong was ever achieved by a sole agent. If we are to remove hate and discrimination, raise families with a means of self subsistence, and make peace happen, it will be because we said “NO!” to division and “YES!” to working in unity for a better future.
A question to my fellow Millennials: How do you see King’s dream being made a reality? What things are preventing that reality, and what can we do to overcome them?