August 28, 1993 I had the honor to attend the 30th anniversary March on Washington. I was a law student of 25 years of age. I was not yet born when Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous, “I Have a Dream Speech” in 1963. But I remember vividly that day back in 1993. It was very hot. The sun was shining, and I had a chance to meet Ms. Rosa Parks. And standing next to her was Mrs. Coretta Scott King.
Literally being able to see and touch two of my “Sheroes” and Civil Rights icons was a dream come true for me as a young black woman. But for their sacrifice, and that of their husbands, and of their generation I could not have attended a prestigious law school, or worked on Capitol Hill, and ultimately in one of the nation’s most prominent law firms years later.
As I reflect today on “The Dream” 20 years from that Day when I was just in my twenties; I think that although America has made great racial, and gender progress, we still have much further to go. Today, President Obama will likely give a speech about his dream for America. It will be a great moment in our history as Americans. A young black man from humble roots. Of mixed racial heritage. Married to a young black woman, from even humbler roots. Both achieved great heights by way of having a great education. Both attended Ivy league schools. They married. Started a family. Struggled to pay their student loans. They stuck together through challenging times. And they dreamed great dreams together. And somehow they achieved, what many in our nation thought impossible in 2008: They became President and First Lady of The United States.
I wonder did Dr. King, Congressman John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph and others standing on the steps of Mr. Lincoln’s Memorial dare to hope that 50 years later, after their sacrifice, and after their brave stand for freedom and equality in America, that America would have a black President. I suspect they did. Maybe no one had the courage to speak it out loud. But I promise you they dreamed it. They hope for it. They paid the price to pave the way for it to happen. And it did.
And I think that is where this “new” dream should begin.
Dreams are what propelled America to greatness. Dreams gave pioneers and explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 1500s the courage to cross the ocean and build a first colony (Roanoke Island) in Virginia. Dreams are what gave a rag-tag group of Americans (farmers, merchants, lawyers, masons, etc.) the courage to rebel against the great British empire and defeat a King. Producing great men like George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Dreams are what gave men the ability to travel west. Brave the frontier. Risk life and limb to expand America’s territory. Dreams of freedom for the slaves, and state’s rights for the south are what caused a nation to split literally in two in 1861, and fight our great Civil War. Thank God President Lincoln’s dream of “one nation”, “one union” prevailed. Dreams gave freed slaves who could not read the ability to build colleges, churches, families, and wealth. Dreams are what caused men like Sears, Edison, Bell, Vanderbilt, Mellon, and Einstein, to build, invent and invest in The “American Dream”.
This new generation of Americans has lost the power of their dreams. They feel entitled to earn a lot of money. They feel entitled to government assistance. They feel entitled to government bail-outs. They feel entitled to “freedom”. They feel entitled to economic prosperity. They feel entitled to a college education. That is wrong. The story of us. The story of America is never about what we are entitled to, it is a story of what we fight for. For what we build. For who we can become. For what we earn. For what we can dream about.
Dr. King spoke to America 50 years ago today in a context of civil strife, segregation, Jim Crow, separation, anger, violence, and racial injustice. That is not our “context” 50 years later. Our context today is in many ways more complex. We no longer live in a segregated America. At least not on the surface, but we still have black unemployment that is staggeringly high. We have a wealth gap between black and white income, savings, and assets in America that is still far too wide. We have a black male incarceration epidemic that has devastated the black family. We have poor run down schools, in poor communities. We have segregated classrooms not by mandate of law, but by race, geography and class. We have 73 percent of black babies born out of wedlock. We have blighted communities like Detroit that are in bankruptcy. We have a new generation of college graduates with staggering student loan debt and no place to work. We have a new generation of young people (and adults) who resolve conflicts not with peaceful protest or marches, but with gun violence, anger, and murder. We have ill people who are not properly monitored and medicated, and then one day walk into a school and kill 20 innocent babies. Poverty is at a 50-year high. Too many children are left with no homes, no hope and no future in our nation’s foster care system. I could go on and on. But the Dream Dr. King spoke of has not yet been fulfilled.
We have to do better. America we must do better.
The NEW dream that we need as Americans is one as old as our founding: E Pluribus Unum, out of many we are one. We are in this together. There is no black, white, yellow or red. Rich or poor. Male or female. Blue states versus Red states. We must begin to dream again as one nation. As one people. We must renew the story of “us”. Our leaders must learn to stop the partisan bickering, and start legislating on our behalf. Our justices and judges must remember that they do not make the laws, they only interpret the laws. We must understand that when one segment of our great American family is falling behind, or worse, failing that ultimately it will cause America to fail. We must understand, once again who we are: Manifest Destiny. America the great. America the possible, America, the dream!