I recently was helping a young man with a homework assignment.
His teacher had assigned the class the project of analyzing a recent poll that was taken and published regarding the status of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech.
The students were asked to compare and contrast the student body poll with the adult published poll.
The question asked in the poll was, “How close are we to fulfilling Dr. King’s dream of a colorblind society?”
A citywide poll reflected that 60 percent of our citizens believe that we aren’t even close. That poll was compared with 63 percent of his school’s student body, which believed that we are very close.
Having not contributed to either poll, I was the odd man out, a position that afforded me a unique perspective. I am a black man who was born in the south in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement. I am also an educator. As I contemplated my thoughts on our colorblind society, I heard the voice of the young man bringing me back to the present.
“Mr. Williams, I don’t understand why there is so much hate. I mean, my friends and me don’t seem to care, but according to this poll, the adults do. I am having a hard time with this assignment.” With that comment, he allowed his hands to drop to his side.
I understood and appreciated his dilemma. I thought about cutting to the chase and borrowing a line from Bobby Boucher’s (The Waterboy) mother and tell him, “The devil!”
But I felt he deserved a more in-depth analysis then that. Or to quote Billy Joel, “We didn’t start the fire it has been burning since the world has been turning.”
Cain slew Abel, after all and there were only a handful of people on the planet at that time. To say that things have gone downhill since then would be a serious understatement.
Perhaps the reason that so many of the adults voted “not close” may be due to the fact that they lived through and endured the history you and your peers have only read about.
Every step forward comes with a half of step back. When progress is made through such painful efforts, I don’t think any amount of progress will ever be good enough.
Some people bow at the altar of forgiveness. Their mind makes daily trips to hurtful events. Even on a great day, history warns them to wait for the other shoe to fall.
The above poll is tainted with the visage of Jim Crow-ism, a mindset that is completely foreign to your generation.
“But what about the constitution and all men being created equal?” asked my student.
I smiled and shook my head. He’d done his research.Our future is in good hands if he and his peers share that mindset. Frederick Douglass said the same thing.
Actually he said, “America does not have a race problem; the problem is, does America have the courage to live up to its own Constitution?” We covered a lot of territory over the course of our conversation, one that included Dr. Seuss, Star Belly Snitches and Plain Belly Snitches.
I mentioned how my teachers taught us the golden rule – “Treat others how you want to be treated.”
A passing teacher interrupted and added that people don’t teach that anymore.
“Well, they should,” I countered.
We discussed the ongoing conflicts between various religious groups, which puzzled the young man. I was impressed. I don’t recall thinking such deep thoughts when I was his age.
I shared with him a story my friend Jim Bogle, now a teacher and coach in the Attalla City School system, once told me.
While walking through a cow pasture, Jim and his dad came upon a pile of cow manure.
“Jim, what is that?” his dad asked.
“Manure,” Jim replied.
“Smell it,” his dad commanded.
Jim did as he was told but he couldn’t smell anything.
His dad picked up a nearby stick and stirred it in the manure.
“Now, do you smell anything?
“Yes sir,” replied Jim.
“Have you ever heard the phrase, stirring up a stink? Well, that’s where the phrase comes from,” Jim’s dad said.
With that comment, Jim’s dad tossed the stick aside and they continued their walk through the pasture. I share that story to say that the media plays a role in the ongoing problems that exist between our races.
You and I sitting here talking about this situation isn’t newsworthy enough. It will not get on the evening news, but conflict, sensationalism and things that divide us will get top billing.
Dr. King was right and he was wrong. He was right in that the goal is worthy but he was wrong because although the dream may not be fulfilled during the lifetime of his children, perhaps it may be fulfilled during the lifetime of his great-grandchildren. At least the current polls indicate as much.
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” – Jonathan Swift.
“We might as well learn to get along, because no one is going anywhere.” – Ross Perot
David Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.