Monday, January 17, 2011

Stop Dreaming, Start Doing

Many great things have taken place in American history thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders who devoted their lives to overcoming the evils of injustice and hypocrisy. It took a phenomenal amount of courage to lead a revolution against the status quo that dominated American society at the time. It took determination to boldly fight for the transcendental Truth which had been hidden away and ignored since the founding of the United States. It took wisdom and foresight to look for changes and dismantle racist and oppressive institutions but without vengeance, without blood, and without hatred. Finally it took action. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke eloquently and his words will always live on, but he is mostly remembered because he was also a man of action. Rhetoric is not enough to make change occur. Dr. King emerged as a leader during a tumultuous time in the U.S. , as did many other people, mostly nameless, who also dedicated their lives to battling racism and raise awareness of the problems in America. We have examples of Thurgood Marshall fighting against legal segregation, the Little Rock Nine, Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in MLB, the murder of Emitt Till, Rosa Parks and the bus boycotts. We think of the nonviolent protests, sit-in movements, the Freedom Riders, James Meredith, Medgar Evers, and the Dr. King’s March on Washington. The protests and several tragic killings of black Americans brought national attention to the civil rights movement. Without action and without sacrifice, social justice and progress might not have happened.

Since MLK’s time, we live in a free and cosmopolitan society. Whether it is in our own communities or through media and pop-culture, America can be seen as a place where all kinds of different people can hope to live in peace and happiness no matter your race, creed, complexion and now more increasingly, your sexual orientation. Ideally, you can safely walk wherever you want and you can go to any public facility or event. Legally, there is equality in schools, and in the work-place. Generations of American children have grown up with multiethnic friends and heroes. We have even lived to see the election of a black president, President Barack Obama. These achievements have been an inspiration to the world, especially in nations that lived vicariously through the victory African-Americans had won during the civil rights era. The Caribbean and African nations drew on the examples of leadership and struggle found in the U.S., as did all types of people from Asian, Latin American, and European countries. This is why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day in America. Yet, it is also why we are forgetting the true example and legacy of MLK.

Because so much has seemingly changed, and because generations of young Americans grew up in a country that no longer has obvious signs of racism, we often forget that this progress was not an overnight phenomenon. Dr. Martin Luther King did not give his “I Have A Dream Speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and immediately afterward people were overcome with the need to hug each other and apologize for the wrong’s of the past and present. No, MLK was an example of one of those people taking the first steps toward equality. After African-Americans were protected by the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, resentment against this legislation led to increased racism in some parts of the North with de facto discrimination. Opponents of civil rights became violent, activists were attacked and killed... Dr. King was assassinated. Change did not come right away, in fact, it seemed too slow, which is why many African-American activists like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael sought out more militant forms of protest against discrimination and segregation. Much of this frustration and racial tension erupted in the form of violence and riots. Although it may have not have followed suit with MLK’s dream, this part of the civil rights movement ultimately led to cultural pride and political gains that had not existed before. Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered, but we rarely recall the continuation of the civil rights movement or the transition into our modern identity as America, which is still a mission in progress.

It is great to honor and respect Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other civil rights leaders and activists... but the greatest honor to him would be to realize that the movement still continues and that we all need to continue to be activists. Too many of us have become comfortable and apathetic. Problems did not end with the civil rights era. Neither black or white, or any other Americans, are living in a utopian society. Unemployment, urban poverty, and homelessness have been in the rise for several decades, and because of the current economic and social challenges that we are facing, these problems only continue to grow. Furthermore, these issues are magnified in the African-American and other “minority” communities because of their historical situations and years of discrimination. It is not enough to depend on historical legacy or our government to make the change. We have to initiate it with direct action, and we must fight against the enemies of our advancement.

MLK’s mission in life was for people everywhere to have dignity, equality, and justice... especially within the disadvantaged black community. This has not yet happened, and there are still plenty of roadblocks in the way. Racism and discrimination still exists in America. It would be foolish to believe that it all just disappeared after the civil rights era. It is alive and well, but not blatantly obvious. Instead, it is hidden in conservative political rhetoric, disguised as concerned radio talk-show hosts, and in agendas that in reality negatively affect the black community. Educational and social challenges remain. An achievement gap exists between white and black students (I see this first-hand as a high school teacher). Black students have higher dropout rates, lower test scores, and fewer enrollments in colleges. Many schoolchildren are increasingly separated by race in resegrated schools because of middle class families moving into suburbs. The increase in single-parent families has resulted in a struggle with providing education and health opportunities for the youths. The cost of living is high and many black communities are still plagued with crime and inequality and job and educational opportunities. These have been on-going problems and all too often they are blamed on the victims instead of the powers-that-be.

It is hard times in America, for everyone, but disproportionately for minorities and the working poor despite the progress that civil rights have made. People have a right to question things, people have a right to have opportunities available to them... yet there are some that would like to reverse many of the advances we have made in regard to social equality and justice. It is the same sentiments that existed before the civil rights but now in the angry voices of movements like the Tea Party which speak of “taking America back”. Yet I have questions to ask, and questions which must be answered honestly. Taking America back to what... back to when? When the whole nation wasn’t feeling what African-Americans and others have been feeling for centuries? Back when there was no political participation voice for these people? Back when there was no government assistance or political progress for these people? Back to when black people were 3/5ths of a person in our original Constitution? Dare I say, back to slavery days?... Many conservatives and concerned citizens are blaming President Barack Obama, a black president, for these problems, but if you are a student of American history, you would know that these economic and social problems have been in the black community all along. Is this all political rhetoric against “liberalism” and “socialism” or are some Caucasian people afraid of losing power in a time of black leadership? Some of these same people pretend they love Dr. King and even “March on Washington”, but they really do not agree that political and economic progress must be shared by all, for the benefit of all. They are afraid of change... They refuse to give up a little power after cheating millions of people for centuries with inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, and inadequate health care. To try and repeal the Health Care Bill that President Obama passed is just one example of this disguised attack against social and racial justice.

We have the responsibility and privilege to work together and improve the quality of life for our generation and generations to come. We need to continue a legacy of progress that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spearheaded. We need to stay focused and work toward the goals of racial equality for all persons, no matter race, color or creed. We need to take an active role in our communities and in local and national politics. We need to fight against ignorance and poverty until we can stand together as one solid foundation and to once again be an inspiration to rest of the world.

It is easier to praise a man or woman and venerate them than it is to follow in his or her footsteps and continue to do their life’s work. Instead of taking the message and actively applying it to the world, the person becomes idolized and even worshipped. It has happened all throughout history with all kinds of people, the greatest example being Jesus Christ (theology aside). It only took a few centuries before the early Christians became less concerned about fulfilling Christ’s way of life and more focused on the worship of Him. It only took a few more centuries before His followers argued over His divinity and waged wars and killed in His name, instead of remembering His teachings and His life. It is happening more and more with the name, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr”. We are becoming dependent on him as an icon. We are idolizing him and saying that the work is done. We speak of MLK, the name of our hero, but barely know the sacrifice and the struggle, or respect the fact that we are now the torch-bearers.

Most of us have become stuck in between the lines of “I Have A Dream”, and we are still dreaming. We have not woken up to reality. We have not done enough to continue his legacy. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you can do something to fight for social justice... you can do something to improve the lives of the human race. Why not remember Dr. King in an active way, instead of a day off from school or work? We should follow the example of President Obama and others who ask us to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a day of service and demonstrate our hope and faith in the future. H.I.M. Haile Selassie I once said that, “he who is worthy of praise amongst men is the man who, animated by sentiments of justice, perseveres in the way of equity...”. Dr. King was certainly a man worthy of praise. Let us also be men and women worthy of praise. Let us keep striving in order to grow as a nation and as a people.

Stop dreaming and start doing! Rastafari!,

“Justice for black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. Nor will a few token changes quell all the tempestuous yearnings of millions of disadvantaged black people. White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo...” – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hand Of God, Part II

Hand Of God, Part II

A new day had dawned and it was time
That I began ascending toward Zion
High above the murky mires and valleys
That I had once roamed in my distress
Yet His Gracious Hand delivered me
And He then filled me with love and said
"Now you are a light unto the world
Shine in the darkness so that all may see
And never hide yourself under a bushel"
So I went forth to follow His Majesty

The road proved to be rocky and steep
But faith helped me to find the way
Through tight passages and sharp peaks
Climbing, I heard cries from behind me
And His voice said, "Be my Hands..."
I turned to see so many people who had
Been guided by JAH lamp within my soul
And so I pulled, as my Father had told
But while reaching out I started to slip
When I recognized the grip saving me

And behold, I was held in His embrace
It felt to me like my parents
He said to I, "Love created you"
It felt to me like my siblings"
He said to I, "Love grows with you"
It felt to me like my neighbors
He said to I, "Love lives with you"
It felt to me like my lover
He said to I, "Love comforts you"
And behold, I could feel JAH Love within me

(c) 2011

January 7th is “Lidet”, or the “Birth of Iyesus Kristos (Jesus Christ/Yeshua Ha'Mashiach)”. Iyesus came as the Light of the World to glorify the Father. He said for us to follow him and shine our light in the same way and manifest love, so that we may bring His children out of the darkness. I give thanks for the Love of Jehovah through His Son, Iyesus. As a Rastafari, I see this also in the personality of King Selassie I. This love however is also ever present in my life through my family, friends, and companions. Light begets light... Give thanks to the Savior, The Light. I&I Rastafari do the work of His Hands.