Tonight I attended the 33rd annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration at Gettysburg College. Dr. King is one of my favorite historical figures and I was excited to hear Mrs. Charlayne Hunter-Gault speak of Dr. King, his dream, and the work we must still do to complete his vision for a world of peace and equality. Mrs. Hunter-Gault is:
“the author of News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance and In My Place, a memoir of her role in the civil rights movement as the first black woman admitted to the University of Georgia. Her latest book is To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement, a retrospective of her involvement with the movement, complete with photographs and original articles from The New York Times.” – event program.
Alongside honoring Dr. King’s legacy, the celebration awarded the Living the Dream Award to Jessie V. Wansel Smith, an outspoken community activist and volunteer. The Adams County Career Aid Project (ACCAP) also recognized ACCAP recipient Marcus Mincey, now a student at West Chester University. Mrs. Hunter-Gault inspired us with her charisma and fiery attitude. I write this summary/reaction to her words:
“You can kill the dreamer, but not the dream.” Dr. King’s legacy lives on in the people who continue to fight for justice, equality, and love. Everyday they walk through the valley of death, but they fear no evil for they are protected by their armor. Not an armor of steel, but an armor of values and love. Some times the hate, the frustration, the struggle…some times it makes them tired. But they laugh, they shout, and they keep on keepin’ on.
Dr. King knew that racial equality was a dream that must one day be achieved, but it was only ever part of a larger dream where all people of the world were equal. Have we forgotten that equality of law means nothing if we do not have equality of opportunity or equality in the quality of our lives? How can we, as Americans, continue to drive our fancy cars and throw away more stuff than others have ever owned? Did we forget the price of freedom? We constantly ask “is it legal?” but why do we dare not ask “is it moral?”
We speak of equality but we do not address the poverty and poor education that permeates even our own wealthy country. Those of us given the opportunity to receive an excellent education gather information from the news stations that fill the airwaves with lies and half-truths based in the perceived superiority of the elite. And we unquestioningly absorb the ignorance and intolerance it breeds. We speak of change, yet we cannot simply wipe away yesterday. Racism and hate still exist. And inequality feeds on our denial.
Dr. King seemed to know his time was drawing to a close when he gave his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on April 3, 1968. But he encouraged us to keep fighting. “I’ve seen the Promised Land” he said. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” Dr. King may have seen the Promised Land, but we are still blind to its beauty. Today we must remind ourselves of his dream and recommit ourselves to making a world where one day all men will be created equal.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Dr. King, some times I lose my way. Some times I get confused by all the distractions in life. But I want you to know this: I have not forgotten your promise. I will keep following my dreams, and I will keep honoring your dream that one day all men will be created equal. One day we will see the Promised Land…together.