Monday, January 19, 2009

On Hope, Dreams and the Sublime Courage of a King

Martin Luther King, Jr. was 39 years old when he was gunned down in April of 1968. A young man with a young family. A preacher. A man of faith. An American citizen who was jailed for acting on his belief in the equality of all men. A forceful advocate for justice. A man who was murdered during the war on racism.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a day set aside to celebrate the life of a remarkable man. King was a man who cautioned against waiting for time to heal the wounds of slavery and racism. He knew that "time was neutral." He understood that the actions of people determined whether time was used constructively or destructively. And in his short time on this earth, King worked tirelessly toward his dream of freedom and equality.

Today, we honor his legacy, his spirit, his dream.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the time-honored American tradition of swearing in a new president. The peaceful transition of power from one leader to the next is a hallmark of our vibrant democracy. And tomorrow, the torch is passed from George Bush, child of privilege and power, to Barack Obama, child of Kansas, Hawaii and Africa.

As of tomorrow, a black man will be the president of the United States. An improbable outcome of an improbable campaign that improbably focused on hope and renewal. As the long campaign progressed, Obama found that his focus on the promise of America was the message that seized the imagination of the American voter. This is nothing new in American politics - the lineage of hope stretches long into our history - it is the message of Jefferson, of Roosevelt, of Reagan, and of course, hope is the message of King.

And what Obama's election tells me is that hope still matters in America. It tells me that this nation is still filled with millions of dreamers who want only what King wanted – that moment King described in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, that moment when "the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."

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