Fifty years have passed since Martin Luther King articulated a beautiful vision for America in his “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963. There have been strides. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, outlawing some discrimination and removing some barriers for blacks to access equal employment opportunities and to participate in the political process. As a result, Barack Obama will serve a second term as the first African-American president of the United States.
Dr. King probably never imagined such. Despite this progress, however, much remains the same.
The unemployment rate for blacks is twice that of whites. More than 2 1/2 times as many blacks live below the poverty line as do whites. Black children are more likely to attend a failing public school. And should they reach high school, nearly half will not graduate.
Our inner cities continue to be plagued with crime, poverty and blight. Three of 10 black teenage boys will become caught up in the criminal justice system before their 25th birthday. And still, more of them will go to jail than to college.
Black business owners find it nearly impossible to secure adequate capital and loans to compete in the marketplace. Finally, in one area where there has been progress — participation in the political process — atavistic politicians have reinstituted ill-conceived barriers to voting rights.
King once said: “Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care — each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our heritage … Justice so long deferred has accumulated interest and its cost for this society will be substantial in financial as well as human terms.”
King’s dream has been elusive. That is why the National Urban League convened civil rights, social justice, business and community leaders to outline national policy priorities to guide our collective efforts as the civil rights movement continues.
In the full communiqué, which can be found at nul.iamempowered.com, five urgent priorities are listed: 1) achieve economic parity for African Americans; 2) promote equity in educational opportunity; 3) protect and defend voting rights; 4) promote a healthier nation by eliminating health care disparities; 5) achieve comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system. The communiqué is the first step in developing a forward-moving public policy action agenda. The challenge remains how to achieve these goals.
Perhaps this initiative will provide fuel to reignite the passion, commitment, courage and acumen to realize the dream. But, until all youth have access to a quality education, are instilled with self-respect and respect for others, and have access to viable employment opportunities, King’s dream will remain elusive.