Sunday, January 18, 2009

Let's Continue to Move Forward Together

President-elect Barack Obama has called upon all Americans to participate in a national call to service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the day before the inauguration. Obama states that the renewal of America's promise begins with each one of us making a commitment to bring change to our local communities.

As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Dr. King's birth, I am reminded of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

I traveled with friends and neighbors from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. We caught the bus at midnight and arrived in D.C. in the early hours of August 28th.

We were filled with the passion and promise of change, ignited by the idea that, just maybe, if enough people showed up, the world would understand we were not satisfied with the current conditions of racism and the exclusion of so many in the United States.

After arriving in the Capital, we joined the organized march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. We stood in front of the podium, close enough to see and hear the speakers. The "Big Six" organizers of the march were Dr. King, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; James Farmer, of the Congress of Racial Equality; John Lewis, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; A. Philip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, of the NAACP; and Whitney Young Jr., of the National Urban League. The event included musical performances by Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson.

The written demands of the march were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority.

The events were emotional, as 250,000 people from all walks of life, of different complexions, cultures and faiths, joined hands. Together we sang "We Shall Overcome." On that day our lives were changed forever. We wept, we laughed, we experienced joy and, most importantly, we returned to our homes with a renewed commitment to make a difference in the world. We were asked to take the message of a call for change back to our various communities.

I recently came across a  paper I had written on that day in 1963. Here is what I wrote:

"I pledge I will not relax until victory is won.

I pledge to carry the message to my friends and my neighbors back home and arouse them to an equal commitment and equal effort.

I will march and I will write letters.

I will demonstrate and I will vote. 

I will work to make sure that my voice and my brothers' voices will ring out in all corners of the land.

I pledge my heart, my mind and my body unequivocally and without regard to personal sacrifice, to the achievement of social peace through social justice."

Today, I recognize that I was filled with youthful enthusiasm when I wrote those words. But I feel proud as I realize that during the time that has lapsed since that day, I have done my best to fulfill the pledge.

As President-elect Obama puts out the call for service, we are reminded that we are the change that we are looking for. Let's continue to move forward together for a unified future.


First published in The Buffalo News, New York - January 17, 2009

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