A man who was a champion for justice, equality and respect. A man who spent decades fighting against those who wanted to continue to enforce injustice. A man who was willing to put his life on the line, daily, so that those of us with brown skin would have an opportunity to pursue the life he envisioned for us all.
The man I’m referencing is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, we celebrate him.
Not only for his accomplishments but for his tenacity, his fortitude, his resilience, his bravery, his courage, his perseverance, his boldness, his guidance, his resolve, his passion, his triumphs and even his defeats. For combined, they all produced a leader who repeatedly stared down the barrels of guns with a conviction centered around non-violence while challenging the system that desired to erase him.
Dr. King envisioned a country where skin color would be of no concern to anyone. He envisioned a country where each citizen would be judged by their character. He envisioned a country where people would unite to fight for unity for all.
He expressed his hopes in one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, his “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963.
Today, I’m reminded that nearly 56 years after he shared his optimism, we’re still fighting this uphill battle to achieve these desired outcomes.
And honestly, it’s discouraging sometimes.
As a black woman, I will never be able to understand why someone doesn’t like me simply because I’m enriched with more melanin. I didn’t choose to be who I am, but I have always been grateful and thankful to be who I am. There hasn’t been one day in my life where I questioned why I was born black. For me, it’s an honor. It’s an honor to be me.
This isn’t a slight against anyone or any race because I believe everyone should be proud to be who they are, even if some races and genders receive more privileges than others.
The issues arise when those who receive the privileges aren’t willing to share or spread them out amongst those who remain oppressed and suppressed simply because of their skin tone, gender, life experiences or family history.
Bigotry and hatred have been in existence for thousands of years. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. These ideologies have been deeply rooted and passed down for generations. It’s at the heart of what Dr. King attacked through words and action.
However, within every battle is some sliver of hope and I’ve seen it rise to the surface consistently over the years. I continue to believe there are more people in this country who are driven by love as opposed to hate. I remain confident in this because I’ve seen it in action.
I’ve seen protesters from multiple backgrounds and races. I’ve seen those who benefit from the injustices of the justice system fight for those who suffer from the injustices of it. I’ve seen those who don’t understand the plight of those who are constantly having doors slammed in their faces being willing to stick their foot in the door to ensure opportunities are available across the board.
This is the part of the world Dr. King believed would manifest.
I often wonder what Dr. King would think of this country today. Would he be discouraged? Encouraged? Disgusted? Confused? Frustrated? Proud? Hurt? Hopeful? Optimistic?
I wonder if he would be able to identify significant change or if he would see that the masks have been taken off and hidden elsewhere.
One thing I know for sure is he would tell us there is more work to be done. Until we’re able to live in the atmosphere he imagined, there will constantly be a need for advocates, leaders and hope dealers to speak up and work.
On this day, I challenge you to reflect on what you’re doing within your own life to help propel this country forward into the vision Dr. King laid out for us. Are you helping or hurting? Are you speaking out or keeping quiet? And most importantly, what are your actions? They speak louder than your words. What do your actions say about you?
Kassaundra Shanette Lockhart is a freelance writer.