By Nicole Price
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer
The beginning of the new year brings about reflection on the past and thoughts about the future. Every year people commit to making changes for the next year and perhaps even further. It is somewhat ironic that the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., falls at the beginning of the year, as does the day set aside to honor him. Ironic because on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday people often reflect on the past, go to events that urge people to take action on making the Dream a reality, and some even make personal commitments to become part of the change needed to actualize the Dream. Dr. King dreamed of equality for all people, where everyone is judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.
After 15 years of advocacy, Martin Luther King Jr. Day became an official holiday in 1983 when President Reagan signed into law the bill creating it. By 1986, various states began celebrating the holiday. In 2000, all 50 states finally set aside the third Monday of January as a day commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. King. Is it too much to ask to take one day to reflect, receive a call to action, or accept the call to make equal rights for all American a reality and fulfill the Dream? Are we moving closer to achieving the Dream, or are we actually going backwards? There have been ample opportunities for us as a nation, as communities, as families, and as individuals to eradicate racism and make the Dream a reality.
It is easy to say we are moving closer to the dream – we have a biracial president; all races can attend public institutions of higher education; blacks no longer are required to sit at the back of the bus; we can eat together; and the list goes on, but are these basic human rights really equivalent to equal rights or a dream realized? Is there not more to being equal?
For example, shouldn’t each person be judged on the content of their character as an individual and not by the color of their skin or according to some stereotype? If the answer is no, then we do not have equality for all in the United States! People form opinions about others based on their gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and/or dress before a genuine interaction takes place. These opinions can be overridden by the actual interaction. Some opinions can shape the interaction, resulting in a negative outcome. In certain situations, the person being stereotyped lives with the burden of being judged by a standard which they cannot control. In other instances, these opinions are deadly, as we have seen – Eric Gardner in New York; Tamir Rice in Ohio; Jordan Davis in Florida; Rumain Brisbon in Arizona; Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in New York. Based on a stereotype/generalization, these people lost their lives.
These devastating murders are not new. Social media has amplified the pain and trauma for many who either previously did not care or did not know. To add fuel to frenzy, people talk about a post-racial society, where disparities are no longer race-related; yet some people’s realities do not align with those sentiments. Many believe the Dream should already be a reality and it is not. Perhaps by making public these deaths, our nation will be moved to take immediate action in actualizing the Dream. Perhaps because of the continual protests and discussions, our nation will understand that without shared power, true equality cannot be a reality for every citizen of this country. Perhaps by showing the videos on the Internet, our nation will begin to focus on the underlying issues leading to these deaths rather than the imperfections of the victims.
We are stagnant, and the Dream seems to be dissipating. The Dream exemplifies humanity for all, therefore, realization is imperative. We can achieve the Dream, but first we must acknowledge that we are short of the goal. Next we must act. Let us reflect on what we heard, learned, and/or felt on Dr. King’s holiday and use it as a catalyst for action for this year to move closer to achieving equality for all.