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A Dream Examined

January 16, 2012

It is Martin Luther King Day, the time of year when sound bytes of “I have a dream” fill the airwaves and everyone pays lip service to some vague generalities surrounding a highly disputed American icon. School plays are presented, essay contests are held, and grandiose speeches are delivered.

Unfortunately, very little real thought is given to the heart of the matter. Regardless of how you want to regard Dr. King himself, what this is really about is the country itself. This should be a yearly opportunity to reexamine America’s essence, the dream of a nation founded on the principles of freedom, justice, and equality for all. Has America always lived up to these principles? Clearly not.

There have been many egregious breaches of this great social promise from the genocide of the Native American Indians to the legislated discrimination against Asians to slavery and its evil aftermath of segregation. Along the way some people of character and strength such as Dr. King devoted their efforts in often-futile and, for most,  little-publicized attempts to rectify the injustices. They should all be honored and recognized. It is a shame that any of them were needed in the first place.

It is far too easy for those who have ample freedom and prosperity to ignore the plight of those who don’t, and the desire of the haves to “protect what is theirs” is understandable, but to reconcile the existence of both groups within the framework of what America is supposed to be is problematic to me. Until this is resolved, we will not be all that we claim to be.

I have been many places in the world, and I do believe that this indeed is the greatest country. It is not great because of its material wealth, military might, or technological advantages. What makes it great is the opportunity afforded to all. But whenever this opportunity is denied, for whatever reason, it lessens the stature of America. Dr. King put it well when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

So today — and every day — we need to examine this dream of a just and equal America and think about our obligation to do what is necessary to help this great country of ours fulfill its promise. To all. All of the time. If and when that happens, Dr. King’s dream and the dream of all fair-minded Americans will have finally been achieved.

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