This isn't meant to be an in-depth analysis or anything, just my stream of consciousness thoughts on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Started out as a Facebook post but got a little long, so the inheritance goes to my blog readers.
Fifty years ago this week one of the largest protests in American history took place, The Great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march incorporated many speakers, including the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, almost 100 years after millions of slaves were emancipated by President Lincoln, and declared "I have a dream..."
Our nation has come a long way since then. Because of the civil rights movement, there are now comprehensive anti-discrimination laws that protect the rights of so many people. Equal opportunity is common language. Children learn about Dr. King in school, and streets and libraries have been named in his honor. The march was an integral part of our history. And we finally elected our first black president, twice... I wasn't even alive during the civil rights movement, but I cried when Barack Obama's name was announced as the president-elect in 2008. I knew history had been made.
It think it's really important all Americans recognize the progress we have made in the past five decades, but we need to continue to recognize the needs of our minority communities. The United States still has unequal educational opportunities based on socio-economic status which unfairly targets certain people groups. If children can't get a quality education, that affects everything that comes after - possibility of teen pregnancy, not graduating high school, not going to college, not being able to get a good job that provides a living wage, and so on... Education is the key to a successful future.
We also have too many young black men who are being incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses and often being given heavier sentences than white rapists and murderers. Our justice system is anything but fair. It appears in the past 30 years our society has found new ways of segregating and discriminating particular people groups under the pretense of an (ineffective) "war on drugs."
Will our society ever be perfect? No. But that shouldn't keep us from continuing to strive towards peace, love, justice, equality and community. Let us never become complacent...
I believe the next step, the step that hasn't even come close to being realized or even spoken of in many circles, is reconciliation. To accomplish this involves interacting, listening, being present with one another, being involved in one another's lives, and looking at why we intentionally segregate ourselves on a personal level, and how we can change policy to end institutional segregation and discrimination.
As a person who does her (imperfect) best to follow Jesus, I think about Galatians 3:28 where the Apostle Paul reminds the church he is writing to: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The Bible also tells us in Revelation that people will reconciled to one another when Jesus returns: After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
I hold on to the same hope Dr. King spoke about during the March on Washington. It makes reflect on the Lord's Prayer, where we pray for God's will "on Earth as it is in Heaven":
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
Reconciliation means becoming intimately intertwined in each other's lives, across race, across nationality, across gender, across abilities, across all that defines us as "different." It requires breaking out of our comfort zones, becoming vulnerable with one another, and living our lives alongside one another. I wonder, what will be the historical moment that will push our generation into finally reveling in and learning from both our similarities and differences, and truly treating one another as brothers and sisters once and for all?
Click here for a transcript of President Obama's speech on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.