Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mr. Nelles goes to Washington

For Barney Nelles, the former director of Family Service of Racine, Inc., said it was like a burning desire to return to a place where it had all started for him. As a young social worker on the streets of Milwaukee, Nelles had gone to Washington D.C. in August of 1963 to hear a young southern Baptist preacher by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. call for an end to segregation and Jim Crowism. There he stood, 27-years-old at the time, listening to the famous "I Have A Dream" speech of the famed civil rights leader of that era. "It really changed my thinking. I had an undergraduate degree in business. I think going to hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech influenced me to make a commitment to be of service to people, rather than being in the business world."

Nelles and the deceased Father Groppi, a Milwaukee civil rights activist, would drive non-stop to be a part of the more than the 250, 000 people who came from all points of the country to hear Dr. King’s call for all people to be treated equal. That was the part of King's speech that remains etched into his mine. "King said that all men are created equal and they should have the same opportunities. He was very concerned about the equality for all people, as a part of that, he was concerned that people be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," he explained.

Nelles makes the trip back to Washington
At the age of 72, Nelles, a Marshfield, Wisconsin native, made the pilgrimage back to the hallowed grounds to hear the inauguration speech of President Barack Obama, the first African-American elected into the highest office in the nation. "A part of the reason I wanted to return was to witness a partial fulfillment of King's Dream and I believe that it is exemplified in Barack Obama."

Nelles, said that he definitely did not believe that he would see a black man as president in his lifetime. "Things are better, but there is much more work to be done, yet we have made significant steps forward."
He said that his trip this time was more up lifting. "People were very cheerful, positive, and I understand that there was not a single arrest during the event. People were very kind to one another, and that speaks of the brotherhood that was shown on that day."

He said that because of discrimination in America at the time, King's speech woke up the consciousness of the American people. Today, Obama’s message calls for healing. "It doesn't happen frequently, but certain people come along that have the characteristics and ability to bring people together. We see that in Barack Obama, he has the charisma and skills to convince people that we must sit across the table, and we are in this together.”

No comments: