A day to rededicate ourselves to restoring movement toward equality
As our nation comes together to celebrate the 90th birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I welcome this opportunity to reflect and share reflections regarding his greatness, work and where we are today as a result of his leadership.
First, we are a better country because of Dr. King. People who look like me no longer have to sit at the back of a bus, can vote without threat and stay at a hotel. It feels great when I travel through the South, I no longer have to urinate on the side of a bus or find an obscure location because there were no public accommodations for people who looked like me. I no longer have to eat in kitchens of restaurants because of the color of my skin.
As a young student required to stand, place my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as an African American, I - nor any other person who look like me - could not use the bowling alley, had to sit in the balcony of the movie theater and could not eat at local restaurants. Reflecting on the freedoms that I now enjoy has fueled my determination to keep fighting. Many of us continue the fight not for ourselves but for the thousands who have gone to their grave without ever having been addressed by the title "Mr." regardless of age. It was "boy" and often, the "N" word.
While these barriers no longer exist, I shall never forget that it was because of Dr. King, the courts and white and black Americans working together that I can now enjoy many of the promises contained in the Declaration of Independence.
I had the honor and privilege of working with Dr. King during the Chicago Civil Rights Movement and the Selma to Montgomery March, and served on the National Board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the only organization led by Dr. King for more than thirty years. This association with him increased my understanding of how devoted he was to the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
In many of his speeches, he would include words contained in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" Dr. King would then say: "America, if you did not mean what you said in the Declaration of Independence, you should not have placed them in writing. And because you did, I will make every effort to ensure that you live up to what you wrote." For his deep belief in the American Dream, his life was cut short.
As I reflect on the work of Dr. King and his achievements during his 39 years of life and look at the current threats under way to undermine his dream of justice, equality and unity, I shudder. The closing of schools and banks occurs each year in recognition of him. Films on slavery are shown by nice people, civil rights exhibits are visited along with other tension-free activities that are important in remembering Dr. King's birthday. However, white supremacy is exhibited by many municipalities, police departments, libraries and businesses. Many have forgotten that it takes more than one color to demonstrate diversity and diversity inclusiveness.
While the state of Illinois, the county of Cook, the federal government, Evanston, Oak Park, Elgin, Chicago, Arlington Heights and numerous other municipalities honor Dr. King's birthday by closing, most Northwest suburban municipalities do not.
There are attacks on the voting rights of African Americans and the killing of unarmed black men is out of control. The president continues to lead attacks on people of color, members of the gay community, veterans, women and the poor. He labeled the first black president as an alien and led the Birther Movement against him. He refused to attend annual meetings of the NAACP, the Urban League and the National Association of Black Journalists.
He has led the fight against every achievement made by Dr. King and yet, he is the president of the United States, land of the free and home of the brave.
As we celebrate Dr. King's birthday, we must, both black and white citizens, continue working together and become more determine to regain the progress brought about by the work of Dr. King. Let us move beyond feeling bad about the treatment of black people and move toward reuniting Americans regardless of gender, skin color, culture, sexual orientation and/or nationality.
I urge our citizens to begin to see "color." Failure to do so could continue to mask the skills, contributions and talents of a diverse population. We urge those who profess to believe in diversity and diversity inclusiveness to understand that it takes more than one color to claim diversity.
Let us join hands to ensure that all Americans are treated with respect and evaluated on character -- not gender, skin color, sexual orientation or their country of origin.
Despite the gloom drifting across our nation, good things are happening. To those involved in the Bridging the Black and White Divide initiative, a group of volunteers in the Northwest suburbs, the Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations and others who serve as enablers in the pursuit of justice, equality and unity, I thank you. Keep the faith and continue to believe the words of Dr. King: "Segregation and exclusion based on the color of one's skin will die. It just depends how costly some will make the funeral."
The Rev. Clyde H. Brooks, of Arlington Heights, is chairman of the Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations.