Eighty years ago, a man was born who would alter the course of history, both in this country and around the world. He was a man who dreamed of a world vastly different than his own, and sadly, as is the fate of most visionaries, he would not live to see it.
How fitting that this year, the eightieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, is also the year that a huge part of his dream will become reality. Tomorrow, after we have finished celebrating one leader's legacy, we will crown a new leader for this generation, as Barack Obama becomes the 44th President--and the first African-American President--of the United States.
I wonder how Dr. King would react if he had lived to see this day. Would he weep openly, overcome with emotion the way Rev. Jesse Jackson was on the night of the Presidential Election? Would he sit in quiet reflection, considering how far we as a nation have come from the time of slavery until now? Or, would he roll up his sleeves, knowing there are still battles to be fought because the work is not yet done?
I believe he would have reacted in all of these ways and more, because a historic moment like this is far too complicated to be limited to just one emotion. And for me, that is the most important takeaway from this experience.
We may rejoice, cheer, cry and holler at what Barack Obama's victory represents, a breakthrough for a race of people who have been systematically denied the rights they deserved for the past four centuries. But let us not be so consumed by that emotion that we forget the struggles that lie ahead. We may sit in reverent silence as we consider the sacrifices of all who came before us to make this day possible. But let us not be so reverent that we refuse to take joy in the victory. We may grow even more restless now, knowing that at this moment, there are those in this country whose rights are still being denied and who are still suffering under oppression. But let us not be so restless that we cannot appreciate how long it took to get here, how much we have accomplished, and the fact that we are closer to our goals now than we have ever been before.
Has the dream been realized? Certainly not. We still have much further to go than most people care to admit. But a part of the dream, a critical part indeed, will come to pass tomorrow. I believe Dr. King saw this day coming, and I believe that is the reason why he got up every day, in spite of the odds, and lived his life the way he did. Oh, if only the rest of us could have this kind of foresight: