Aug. 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic convergence on the National Mall for the March on Washington where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the spellbinding, poetic and hell-raising “I Have A Dream” speech.
Annually, those of us who care about such things beyond the gates of Black History Month either ask ourselves quietly or discuss the question with our intimates: Has “The Dream” been fulfilled and how much farther, Brother Martin, ‘til we reach the promised land here on Earth?
My answer today is this: By whose checklist are we measuring our progress?
The modern civil rights movement — such as it is, with its mostly knee-jerk responses to public lynchings of still mostly black teen-aged boys (remember Emmett Till?!) — has morphed into a black boys’ club led by backward-thinking gray-hairs so out of touch with black youth culture they contradict themselves and mire their larger purposes in embarrassment by squandering an international stage to demonize young black men in one breath for “sagging” their pants while simultaneously holding Trayvon Martin’s hoodied corpse up as a scion of young black male martyrdom.
Sunday, Al Sharpton told the crowd gathered in the very spot King laid our burdens down that Freedom Fighters hadn’t risked their lives so that young blacks could “sag their pants.”
That’s black apples and oranges.
We cannot turn on ourselves and belittle what we say we love only when the demonstration of that love is convenient as a talking point and a compelling post-mortem poster image.
We cannot and should not be allowed to have it both ways; further, what this “movement” is missing is push back and the room for disagreement.
As in most other things we’ve learned from majority culture — religion and consumerism to name but two — we are like lemmings.
Black civil rights leaders — mainly the bobble-headed Sharpton who’s been dead set on finding his brand since he led the Tawana Brawley hoax — behave like we’re all still back in those stuffy, small black Southern Baptist churches of yore, the ones with aging and uptight congregants comprising precisely one pew of youngsters who are allowed exactly the fifth Sunday to sing and read pre-approved songs and Scripture because the fifth Sunday rolls around exactly once a year.
Youth Sunday, they called it.
If this nation’s so-called and self-appointed black leadership continues to ignore and set aside young black men and women, we — America — will keep getting what we get.
When King talked about his dream for his four little children, he wasn’t just a father with high hopes of colorblind, character-rich futures for his boundless offspring.
And this is where the speech becomes like Scripture.
Believers grab at what resonates for them, leaving the scraps for others to scoop up and interpret for themselves.
I believe King meant that he wanted his and this nation’s figurative black children to be cared for and shown their worth and to be wholly and intentionally included in all the proverbial marches and pathways to total civil rights.
Used to be black children and teenagers were trained in the ways of civil disobedience; used to be black youngsters were protected and guarded under the fullness of the law as they walked calmly into the heat and hatred of previously all-white Southern classrooms and schools.
We now are loath to show and prove how much we love, honor and respect our black youth, that is, until they’ve been felled by the bullet of an overzealous community watchman, police officer or, by now, stereotypical ghetto tragedy.
Either way, they all end in T-shirts, spontaneous street-side memorials, marches and temporary news feeds.
After 50 years we have not fully folded black youngsters into any conversations of merit. And we are only as good as our children.
In Matthew it reads: The King will reply: Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
In this case, “the least” are surely the black teens who frighten and embarrass us with their thuggery and their sagging, their inappropriately tight jeans and their wacktastic weaves.
This means the black girls pushing strollers as blithely and sometimes as proudly as black adults push luxury vehicles.
This means the black boys who are slow to follow instructions and who concentrate instead on disrupting the classroom to keep others from learning.
This means the black babies who ignorantly curse one another because that’s all they’ve heard at home and they don’t possess any other language.
This especially means all the young black folks — tens of thousands — who, too, got on busses last weekend and who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the old saints and the newly invigorated only to be summarily ignored, dismissed and belittled in speeches by mostly black men they may have had the very nerve to admire.
Like everything else in this country, class has slammed a wedge between us, and this is also true of the remnants of the black civil rights movement.
I understand you upper middle class Negroes with the president’s phone number in your smartphones not wanting to rub your suits up against some black ghetto kid’s angst.
None of these leaders even have to sully their hands by reaching out to the aforementioned population of black teenagers; the ones perhaps easiest to reach and to work with stood right before them, if only for a weekend.
As my friend, Dani, says, the young blacks should’ve all organized themselves and walked out at once.
Then that annual question would’ve been asked and resoundingly answered in absentia.
I have a dream, too.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org