When I was 19, I stood at the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and wondered if his dream would ever come true. Growing up in the midwest in a county that is still, as of the last census, 98% white, I was, up until that moment, unaware of the importance of Dr. King’s dream.
Walking the halls of The King Center, I saw the images and heard the speeches of a man who gave his life to the cause, the dream, that people someday would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin… which is a big leap for someone who grew up where nearly every person I knew or met was the same shade of white. I was overwhelmed, to put it mildly, to think I was part of Dr. King’s dream and spent the next few years endeavoring to understand why the dream was important to me.
I remember thinking, all those years ago, that I would never see a non-white President in my lifetime. Never. I’d seen too much injustice, heard people use racial epithets about people they didn’t know, just because their skin was a different color. I could never understand why people would choose to act that way, but they did… many because they learned to act that way at home or in their group of friends, and the hate and ignorance was passed down as easily and earnestly at times as someone passes on their faith.
I’ve been guilty of prejudice and it happens from both sides of the fence. Maybe my prejudices aren’t color-coded, but I still struggle with seeing everybody from every walk of life on the same playing field, let alone wearing the same uniform. At least I have come to the point in my life where I am willing to acknowledge my weaknesses and seek knowledge so I can be informed and make changes inside myself so I am part of the solution and not the problem.
When I heard Barack Obama announced as the President-Elect of the United States, I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I cried. I watched as a crowd of thousands of people of all shades, shapes, and sizes cheered and wept together.
Regardless of political affiliations, I hope people can look back one day and see the significance of Tuesday night. I can pinpoint moments in my life where I remember where I was in crisp detail when history was made. The Challenger Explosion. The fall of the Berlin Wall. So many more.
Now I can add Tuesday night to the list, the night a giant leap was taken toward making the dream of unity come true.