In my lifetime, I've had many dreams. Perhaps my biggest dream was that the words that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. intoned so eloquently on August 28, 1963 would become a reality. Most people only remember one part of Dr. King's speech on that day, the part where he speaks of dreaming that one day his four children will live in a nation where they "...will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
However there are other parts of that speech that resonate with me. Barack Obama has referenced a phrase from King's speech on numerous occasions, "the urgency of now." I think that Obama knows the entire speech and has not forgotten any part of it.
As Dr. King began his historic speech forty-five years ago, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he spoke of the history of black people, my people, in words that still move me.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
I was eight years old that summer and I lived in a world where the dream of racial justice was far from a reality. For all of my childhood and a large share of my adult life, that dream has been tantalizingly out of reach, that check has remained uncashed.
Tonight as I watched President-elect Barack Obama stride onto the stage in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people, a tapestry of race and ethnicity, I felt giddy with joy and hope. For the first time in my life, I feel that this is truly my country. I believe that America can and will make good on that promissory note. It won't be simple and it won't be immediate. We still have our walls that divide us and we have to learn to listen to each other, and to respect each other. We have to learn to accept our differences rather than trying to shape everyone into some generic norm that means giving up parts of one's sense of culture and identity.
It has truly been a long time coming, but I think that we may have just received a payment from the bank of justice.
The video is of an a capella singing group that I like a great deal known as Sweet Honey in the Rock. The song is entitled Ella's Song and is a tribute to civil rights activist Ella Baker. The video includes the lyrics.