The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson is the founder and president of two dynamic organizations: BOND (Brotherhood Organization Of A New Destiny), a national 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization dedicated to "Rebuilding the Family by Rebuilding the Man," and BOND Action, a 501(c) (4) organization whose purpose is to educate, motivate and rally Americans – especially black Americans – to greater involvement in the moral, cultural and political issues that threaten ourMore ↓Less ↑
If you haven’t done so already, today marks the perfect opportunity to reread Dr. Martin Luther King’s enduring “I Have a Dream” speech. The speech is inspiring and instructive, hopeful yet realistic. It reminds all races of battles won and challenges still to be met in the name of freedom and equality. It offers every reason for hope and every reason to rededicate to the principles Dr. King announced that August day.
As you read the speech today (type “I have a dream speech” into Google), keep three things in mind:
First, note the difference 40 years makes. Dr. King’s speech described the plight of blacks 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. “One hundred years” after the Emancipation Proclamation, said King,
the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
How far we’ve come since the civil-rights movement. Legal barriers have been torn down; there remains relatively little discrimination against black Americans. Responsible, hardworking black Americans do not find themselves “on a lonely island of poverty.” The only “exiles” among blacks today are those self-exiled due to anger.
Second, look closely and make certain to appreciate exactly what Dr. King’s dream was and how it has been twisted today. Dr. King’s dream was that the promise of the Declaration of Independence be met:
This note [the Declaration] was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable 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 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.
The dream to be judged by the content of one’s character, not on skin color, means nothing more than the recognition of equal dignity of all men and women. That is the “check” Dr. King spoke of – it was not a welfare check, it was not a reparations check, nor affirmative action. Dr. King wanted justice – civil rights, and equal protection of the laws – not a handout, despite what is pushed today.
But this was only the beginning of the dream. Dr. King warned:
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred … We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
Dr. King understood that without character, all would be lost and the dream would fail. The recognition of equality imposes upon blacks the need to stay committed to God, family, hard work and morality. Dr. King could speak these words in 1963 with the understanding that, for the most part, blacks were committed to God and family. That is no longer the case. Many have abandoned these commitments. Blacks are being judged on character, and these judgments rightly condemn them.
Third, realize what we must still do. Forty years later, there is cause for great hope. Legal barriers are gone and blacks committed to success do succeed. Despite the character deficit, there is hope and a drive in many blacks to take control of their lives and do right by their families. This is evident in the clear rejection in recent years of Jesse Jackson and others who exist only because of black weakness and anger.
Our biggest barrier as black Americans is no longer the law, white Americans, or black leaders. It is ourselves. We must solve the problems in our own community. Seventy percent of black children born out of wedlock is unacceptable. Celebration of drugs and perverse sex in rap music must be rejected. The easy path of hatred – whether it be through adherence to the liberal Democratic Party, celebration of anti-American and racist assaults like Kwanzaa, or blaming our own failings on whites – must end, because at the end of the day, only our own lack of character will condemn us.
On a day when we celebrate Dr. King’s dream, realize how far we have come, and take note of what we still need to do, it seems proper to end by quoting one of the greatest Americans today. He is a man who has lived Dr. King’s dream. He has triumphed over segregation and anger with integrity, courage, hard work – and the solemn commitment that were he to have failed in life, it would have been no one’s fault but his own. In 1995, rejecting affirmative action based on race, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the following:
[T]here can be no doubt that racial paternalism and its unintended consequences can be as poisonous and pernicious as any other form of discrimination. So-called “benign” discrimination teaches many that because of chronic and apparently immutable handicaps, minorities cannot compete with them without their patronizing indulgence.
Inevitably, such programs engender attitudes of superiority or, alternatively, provoke resentment among those who believe that they have been wronged by the government’s use of race. These programs stamp minorities with a badge of inferiority and may cause them to develop dependencies or to adopt an attitude that they are “entitled” to preferences.
Responsibility, not excuses. Character, not hatred. That is the dream.