Monday, April 6, 2009

I remember April 4, 1968, the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. I still have distinct images of my mother and grandmother sobbing and the black-and-white images broadcast during the special reports on the following day.

I'd like to think that those of us too young to actually remember the assassination of Dr. King are lucky. In my deepest optimism, I hope that America's younger generations will never experience the ravaging heart pain of an assassination, especially one prompted by racist motives. I'm not saying one kind of assassination is less devastating than another, but there is a particular mix of rage, sorrow and hopelessness that follows racially motivated killings.

This mix leaves toxic gashes in the national fabric. And once torn, our fabric is slow to mend.

I believe that Dr. King would be both pleased with America's progress toward becoming a fully equal society and unhappy about the places where we've stalled or gone backward. It's undeniable that we've come a long way since April 4, 1968. A self-identified black man with an African name wins a hotly contested election to become president of the United States. Michael Steele sits at the head of the GOP.

And many black people occupy boardrooms, run corporations, own homes and businesses, hold elected offices and enjoy the full scope of America's promise. At the same time, as the recent Urban League report lays out, racial inequalities in employment, housing, education, criminal justice, health and other areas exist as well.

If Dr. King were alive today, I believe he would be on the front lines, pushing for social, economic and racial justice. And I believe he would stand as forcefully against black-on-black crime and the anti-education mindset present in some pockets of the black community as he would against public funds being poured into our sprawling for-profit prison industrial complexes at the expense of inner-city public schools.

I believe he would be a staunch advocate for improving the sad state of educational opportunities for poor youth and providing affordable, accessible health care for all Americans.

I believe Dr. King is in heaven. And I hope he knows how much he is missed.

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